Today I sat and watched the BBC program with Sir Terry Pratchet entitled Choosing To Die, about people with terminal illnesses taking the decision to go down the route of assisted death. It was a rather difficult program to watch but I felt I wanted to know more about the process in order to have an informed view about the subject.
The link above will expire, but if you choose to watch it, be prepared to have your deepest emotions thoroughly stirred. It follows two men, suffering from motor neurone disease, and their relatives through the emotional, legal and physical steps that need to be taken in order to allow them to determine the time and nature of their own demise.
It raises a number of huge questions about safeguards and medical ethics surrounding the process, as well as the question of why they have to go to Dignitas in Switzerland in order to take, what is in effect, the most important decision of their lives.
We will all die, of that there is no doubt. When, how, and in what circumstances, are all unknown to us, and I am sure that is a very good thing. While we are in good health, while life is a pleasure and not a chore, and while we have the luxury to allow ourselves to make plans for the future, thinking of dying is something we seldom if ever do.
But because of the nature of certain illnesses, the manner in which they encroach on our faculties, both physical and mental, the decision appears to have to be taken some time before it should.
The average lifespan of people in this country is increasing at such a rate, around three months every year, so it is probable that far more of us are likely to encounter dementia or physical conditions that prevent us from leading a life of independence.
So rather than waiting until we reach the situation where a more significant proportion of the population are left in a similar position to these two men, where they have to rely on a Swiss organisation to help them maintain their dignity, we should be embracing the situation now, so we have more time to take the difficult legal and ethical decisions in a calm manner.
Whilst the subject of assisted death or suicide is very emotive, because there are no gods and no rules in Buddhism, it slightly simplifies the question. Because we are all responsible for our own actions, I feel we should be empowered to embrace that responsibility.
But that is just my view.