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October 13, 1997


Farzana Versey

The Right to Live

Dominic Xavier's illustration Now that even the courts tell you it is okay to try and die, you may as well do it. It's all legal, squeaky clean and politically correct too.

But was imprisonment and a fine ever a deterrent against suicide? Would a person set on the path of death, even think of survival and its consequences? Therefore, it is a little strange for voluntary agencies to believe that the scrapping of a stifling law would help desperate souls seek succour and banish the thought of suicide from their minds.

Instead, there will be a rash of emotional blackmail attempts. People will try to commit suicide, but not adequately, so not only will they not die, they will not be arrested and may even get what they are demanding.

However, activists and politicians may lose out because, without an arrest, they will lose all media opportunity. They shall have to content themselves with a glass of orange juice and relayed hunger.

In fact, there is nothing positive about what is being hailed as a landmark judgement. For, once you legalise suicide, you cannot turn a blind eye to related issues. You cannot ban books that tell you the easy ways in which to die. You cannot prevent a discussion by the Hemlock Society, which has been doing commendable work in this area. And you cannot raise your eyebrows over the concept of assisted suicide.

Interestingly, at about the same time that suicide was made legal here, a Michigan jury acquitted Jack Kevorkian, otherwise known as Dr Death, who helped terminally ill patients to die by supplying them with a lethal dose of carbon monoxide.

I am aware a lot of bedridden people would want to end their suffering, but they would rather that it happened without their dying. No one, save those who have sought samadhi, goes to their death looking forward to the experience. This is the romanticisation of the living.

That is the reason I find it infuriating that those who talk about the right to die are either the ones leading very full lives or those who've have had a long stint at it.

People in their nineties or so have no business 'granting' death with dignity. There is nothing dignified about dying when worms walk all over your body, and fires leap to devour you, or vultures swoop down to pick at your once-warm flesh.

By supporting euthanasia, we are giving a slap of scientific endeavour. Can modern medicine not provide relief, if not a cure? Who is the doctor to decide when death is desirable? Does that not amount to brainwashing the patient into believing that death is the only answer?

Besides, how progressive are we really if we find every debility reason enough to feel undignified? Are we teaching the world that dependency of any kind is anathema and it is better to quit than suffer such humiliation?

Let us get this clear. Death is humiliating. It is an end to your striving, the final blow to a useful life. All this talk of grace and poise is rubbish. A corpse has grace because it is immobile, and not because of quality that it possesses. So, do not be taken in by those who talk about your right to die. Ask them to exercise the right themselves or go to hell, whichever is quicker.

As for you, there is only one cure for illness, depression or deathwish -- the opportunity to live. It's the chance of a lifetime.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier

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Farzana Versey