As many of you may have heard by now, renowned ecologist David Goodall has passed away. While it is of course extremely unfortunate to hear about the death of somebody who was well-loved, I think the details surrounding his passing make for an interesting philosophical discussion.
The cause of his death was suicide, however it was not suicide in a way that society would consider “conventional.” Rather, he ended his own life by a method known assisted suicide. Assisted suicides differ from conventional suicides as they occur under the care, supervision, and judgement of physicians, therapists, and psychologists.
Goodall’s death seems to have reignited the discussion surrounding assisted suicide, especially regarding its philosophy and ethics, so I decided I would like to weigh in on this issue since it is something that I have personally thought, read, and talked about for a long time.
To paraphrase a quote by Daniel Defoe, “There are only two things certain in life: death and taxes.” If the statement is true, then we should have the right to determine how death and taxes occur and play out.
We have the ability to vote for our government officials who will then go on to enact legislation and policies regarding how much tax we will have to pay and how those taxes will be used. If you dislike taxation, you may likely vote for the candidate who supports lower taxes. If you find that paying more taxes is beneficial, you may likely vote for the person who takes that platform as well.
What I find so egregious however, is the fact that we don’t have a system set up which allows us to decide how we die. At the very least, one of the last decisions we ever make in our life should be how we depart this world. We write our wills, hopefully pick our nursing homes, and prepare our end-of-life care as much as we possibly can, however the vast majority of us still don’t have the ability to preferentiate when and how we die.
To die with dignity is a noble and novel concept. For someone to die on their own terms can be one of the most empowering choices they will ever make. It’s almost definitely how I will choose to go. I have been a personal supporter of the right to die for as long as I can remember. And I don’t mean just for terminally ill people. If someone wants to die and perhaps therapy, drugs, etc have all failed, then why should they be stopped from seeking assisted suicide as an option? It is their life, their body, and they have a fundamental right to seek this method of suicide.
Mr. Goodall had to fly all the way from Australia to Switzerland in order to end his life in the closest way possible to how he wanted. He said he would have rather died in Australia, but Australia’s laws made the prospect of finding a safe assisted suicide clinic impossible. While I’m glad he was able to find a facility in Switzerland, it is still slightly depressing to me that he could not die in his home country as he wanted.
We need to give people safe and effective ways to end their life. Doctors, therapists, psychologists, facilities, and equipment dedicated to assisted suicide.
David spent his last hours with his friends and family while enjoying his favorite food and activities. During his final moments, as he listened to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, the last movement ‘Ode to Joy’ began. David flicked a switch which would administer the drug that would stop his heart and his eyes closed for the final time just two minutes later.
Much like the debate surrounding Planned Parenthood, women who want or need abortions will seek alternative and dangerous methods if they are not given easier access to safe abortion facilities. If people want to kill themselves, they’re going to do it. We should at least give them a space which is safe and dignifying.