You are here:   Text > The Dying of the Light

Last autumn, I was asked to read in a church. The man who invited me obviously hoped that the minister and I would clash. On the one hand, the religious, categorical Yes to life, and on the other, the categorical Yes to an autonomous life that includes the right to script one's death. I can only say that the planned big bang never occurred. The minister emotionally described some memorable cases from his congregation, and I spoke about my civilian service. It was even quieter than it usually is in a church. No one advocated absolute ideas; we listened to each other.

When we speak about euthanasia, we are often speaking about something else. Even Swiss groups like Dignitas and Exit do not offer euthanasia in the legal sense. Rather, they assist with somebody's suicide by giving the person who intends to die a substance that this person then has to take of their own accord. Legally, however, we speak of assisted suicide. "Helping someone to die" - what does that mean? Does it mean active euthanasia, where a doctor or other third party administers, on demand, the deadly dose? This is what we think of when we speak of euthanasia, even though it is illegal everywhere. Does it mean passive euthanasia, when life-prolonging mechanisms, such as respirators or stomach-tubes, are turned off, if the patients demand it? This practice is common in many hospitals and is entirely legal - a fact which often surprises even medical professionals. Or can a doctor give a patient so much morphine that he or she is more accepting of an early death? In that case, we speak of indirect euthanasia. Only when these terms are clear, and the respective courses of action apparent, are we able to decide what we are in favour of or opposed to.

Neat distinctions - if only it were so easy. These broad categories aside, there are hundreds and thousands of individual cases, all which need to be considered on an individual basis.

What really did happen to Craig Ewert when the British public watched him die? He drank the substance he was given. This was assistance in suicide. That is not illegal. It is illegal to administer the substance you need for that suicide. That is why Ewert had to go to Switzerland. He did not want to die. He said so explicitly. He was not tired of living, he was tired of being ill. The constraints that had become worse and worse had worn him down and exhausted him. He wanted to end his life at a point in time where he, a paralysed person, still had some sense of an autonomous body. He left earlier than he had to. If British law had allowed him to obtain a deadly substance, he could have taken it much later. You can also view it this way: the state stole some of his lifetime. Not only could he have departed later, he could also have done so with greater dignity: in his own surroundings - in his home, and not in a bare Swiss apartment. If his wife had been allowed to administer the deadly substance, he could have lived even longer.

View Full Article

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.