Saturday, 12 January 2008

Get Out While The Getting's Good

Some people volunteer their time to the SPCA. Well, that's nice. Others give charitably when the Red Cross calls. OK. Many reach into their pockets for the Salvation Army. Good for you.
All that's not really my sort of thing, though. I'm designing, pro bono, for the
Right To Die Society of Canada.

Yes, it's what Hitler did (let's get this one out of the way). He euthanised like crazy. He started with the mentally ill, followed up with the gays and lesbians, and topped it all off with six million Jews. He began with a re-education campaign calling the maladroit "useless bread gobblers." Then he ensured that no government department had complete authority, but rather competed with one another to indoctrinate best. Blended with a fervent medieval Aryan pride and a blaring background of Wagner, 100,000 non-Semitic undesirables disappeared into the bowels of the Third Reich.

That doesn't really hold much appeal for me. Quite apart from genetic science making a myth of race and therefore eugenics, killing otherwise healthy people because you don't want them around cluttering up your perfect society is a little unsustainable, because you tend to have trouble setting boundaries. Rather, having a right to die is more something someone chooses themselves.
We've inherited a 'life at any cost' mentality from our pious ancestors, who believed that God gaveth and God will taketh when He Feels Like It. These were people who also believed that leeches were a pretty good idea and wearing coloured clothing was for kings and hookers. We have moved on in many ways, but the way we deal with the end of life is mired in deeply traditional thought--just look at funerals--which is worlds apart from how we deal with life when it is active, vital and free. Hospitals update their equipment as quickly as they can, but their thinking about end-of-life issues is staid and Victorian.

Personal freedom has become elevated to an ideology; it is naive to think that the 'Me' generation will suddenly shift gears when considering the end; as Byron put it:
The leaves must drop away:
And yet it were a greater grief
To watch it withering, leaf by leaf,
Than see it pluck'd to-day;
Since earthly eye but ill can bear
To trace the change to foul from fair.

While doctors now may, with a sidelong glance, secretly prescribe fatal doses of painkillers to patients whose bodies are riddled with cancer, no politician with a sense of self-preservation (!) would ever advance the cause of this final and ultimate freedom: to end one's own life when it is clear that there is little ahead but pain, suffering and ineffectual intensive care destroying any financial advantage you had hoped to gift to the living. This taboo is idiotic, destructive and at odds with every other value we practice. This is not even a prolonging of life, it is a desperate pushing back of death, the horror of the unknown as primal as fear of the dark, of spirits, of monsters under the bed, or as Hamlet soliliques:
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
...And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.

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