‘Still the doctrine sounds strange: die at the right time.’ This quotation comes to my mind any time I see or hear a story surrounding assisted dying. Because it does sound strange, though I cannot make any ultimate sense of why it should. As everybody, currently, has to die, dying at the right time, whatever that may be, seems to make nothing but sense.
Should we die at the wrong time? Before we have experienced anything we hoped to? After we left our joys and works behind so long ago they no longer warm us with even memory? That no one could ever perfectly calculate a right time is not the issue. Of course someone choosing to die might miss out on some unforeseen future event, just as someone choosing to stay in the hope of a revival of hope may suffer even longer when it does not arrive.
Surface thoughts, and ones, if more rarely expressed than others, then only because of the subject matter, and not the difficulty in working through them. As with so much, of course, the issues here, the grounds of the debating sides, are not what they understand, or at least admit, themselves to be.
There may be a selfishness on the part of one choosing to die. I say ‘may’: that might not even be worth debating. Most people have those who care about them, who would note the absence of person as well as the web of action and intent a person weaves about their life. Even those most respectful of individual choice would hardly have their sense of devastation diminished upon losing one so cared about. But that opens the path to a fundamental asymmetry here.
The selfishness of those not allowing the choice of an individual to choose when to die. A societal decision. And I do not speak of issues surrounding whether one is mentally competent at the time, or how many doctors or approvals one gathers to allow it. Those are almost exclusively empty rationalising objects on behalf of the collectively selfish, who want only to deny the right to die. I speak of the societal decision, to demand that everyone, no matter their pain, their joy, the emptiness, their sense of replete fulfilment, to leave when they do decide… because it is abhorrent to them.
It is not the understandable lament of the individual losing an individual. It is the inversion of the death sentence. A life sentence, as law and collective opinion stands to act in cold blood, taking the chance at death away. Many more baulk at the idea of the right to deprive of life. Fewer do at the idea of enforcing life. Yet approaching from as much neutrality as one is capable of, they both look vicious. And the important point to consider is, the underlying, always unspoken, assumptions and beliefs staking you to one side.
Why do you side as you do? When is the right time?