Death as a Lifestyle Choice
In seeing death as a right, Minelli is not alone. Blogging as Bradlaugh, John Derbyshire writes:
I have never been very clear about the religious objections to suicide and assisted suicide. The only time I tackled a religious colleague about it he launched into a “slippery slope” argument. Well, I suppose some slopes are slippery, and some aren’t. I can’t see this one as being particularly slippery.
I disagree. There has been some slippage already. From helping a terminally ill person kill himself before he becomes incapacitated, Dignitas has slithered down to dispatching the frail and sad. Joan Downes was terminally ill, but Edward Downes was not: he just couldn’t face life as a widower. Suppose an 85-year-old husband was terminally ill, and his 74-year-old wife healthy. Suppose the wife was 54, not 74, but felt she couldn’t live without him. Suppose the husband told her that her life was worthless without him -- or perhaps she felt this without being told. Where would Dignitas draw the line?
The last case, of a wife feeling her life is worthless without her husband, is not hypothetical; Jacob M. Appel reports in the Huffington Post on George and Betty Coumbias of Vancouver:
George Coumbias suffers from debilitating and potentially-deadly cardiac disease. His wife, Betty, also in her early seventies, is in good health. However, according to human rights attorney Ludwig Minelli, the director of the Swiss suicide-assistance organization, Dignitas, Mrs. Coumbias wishes to die alongside her husband during simultaneous suicides. She explained her motives in a 2007 documentary film, The Suicide Tourist: "From the day we got married, [my husband] was all my life. ... I love my two daughters, but I love him more, and I don't think I can face life without him, and since we read about Dignitas, we felt, what would be better than to die together, you know, to die in each other's arms?"
What would be better? To live would be better. To live and grieve. Who better to mourn a husband than a wife of fifty years, and who better to mourn a wife than a husband? Grief is not a terminal illness; it is part of life and, as the old cliché goes, the price you pay for love. It is not something to be “cured” by a death clinic. We are all terminally ill -- the word is "mortal" -- and we all suffer loss. Still, for a mere €4,000, Dignitas can end your suffering and help you slip away without too much fuss and bother. Fear no more the heat o' the sun -- come to Zurich and have done.
A consistent plea to die in the arms of a beloved spouse, expressed over a period of two years, is not a wish that a set of officious Platonic guardians should second-guess.
Those “officious Platonic guardians” at The Samaritans, or an “officious” brother, sister, or child might, on the contrary, consider that a healthy woman who chose to end her life in a Swiss clinic was not in her right mind; that it was sordid rather than romantic. They might beg her to reconsider, but this would impair the efficiency of the Dignitas operation, and it might fail to meet its “Key Performance Indicators."
Suicide is not a crime. If the healthy Mrs. Coumbias is determined to kill herself when many terminally sick people would dearly love to live; if she is so indifferent to the suffering that it will cause to her loved ones, she can, literally, go and jump off a cliff. But no doctor worthy of the name should give her poison.
Sati, the immolation of a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre, was stamped out by the British in India. Voluntary or not -- and sometimes it was -- the practice was thought repugnant in a generally crueler age. For all its sanctimony, and for all its talk of “human rights,” Dignitas brings back Sati, neatly and discreetly.