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Sovereignty, self, and suicide

Sir Edward Downes, 85, one of Britain’s most distinguished orchestra conductors, and his wife, Joan, 74, who was ill and dying, assumed sovereignty over their own mortal beings as their ultimate right when they chose recently to end their lives together via assisted suicide. But they had to leave their UK homeland, where such suicide is not legal, to find that sovereignty in a Switzerland clinic.

Albert Camus wrote, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” Controversy abounds in the wake of the Downes’ suicide, but serious philosophical consideration isn’t getting much play. It should, because the question speaks directly to the most elemental choice we face everyday: to be or not to be … in a thousand little and big ways … and to face those choices with a modicum of free will.

But what free will is left when the very concept of a private self is being obliterated by the obsessive ubiquity of reality television and so-called social networking? When the rights of self are increasingly determined to be less than those of the rights of society – when we can barely think for ourselves without consulting the Internet or a pundit, much less act for ourselves in any way that reflects true individual freedom?

The question of suicide is not to be taken lightly. It is a question for adult contemplation and debate. But which of us is so morally and intellectually superior that we deserve the right to restrict other rational and mentally sound adults from intelligently, purposefully, and freely ending their own lives if they so choose?

People make choices every day that shorten the length and quality of their human experiences – from what they eat, to how much they drink, to how much exercise they take. Is such behavior not just a slower form of suicide?

For some, death is not perceived as a fearsome ending, but rather a new beginning – a portal through which to transition to a higher level in one’s spiritual journey or enter heaven. Kahlil Gibran wrote, “For what is it to die … and what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and see God unencumbered.”

For some individuals, choosing death is not so much about choosing to die as it is choosing how to live. In an age where near-daily doctor visits are de rigueur and the details of which are related ad infinitum, if not ad nauseam, to anyone within listening range — some people are craving a return to a time when a body’s decay and journey toward death was met with discretion and dignity.

Would it really be so morally, legally, or spiritually egregious to permit individuals to choose against the all-too-common scenario of death and dying that involves running fearfully from one medical office to another, shuttling confusedly between conflicting diagnoses, difficult treatments, and sometimes indifferent doctors –until the spirit has been depleted of all joy and the body has been reduced to nothing more than staying, barely, alive?

I doubt any of us would be so cruel as to insist on hastening death for an individual who, though slowly dying of illness or old age, wants nothing more than to live to see another day.

But is it not equally cruel to insist on prolonging life for that individual who has soundly and profoundly arrived at the decision that he or she wants nothing more than to die?

Posted on July 17th, 2009Comments RSS Feed
13 Responses to Sovereignty, self, and suicide
  1. A very interesting point, MC. One I was just discussing with family members in regards to one of ours who is very elderly and suffering. What’s the right thing, and who is anyone else to say?

  2. […] MC Coolidge on why we all should have the right to choose how we want to die. Bookmark […]

  3. John W. Perkins
    July 20, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    “[…] MC Coolidge on why we all should have the right to choose how we want to die. Bookmark […]”

    “As for me, my death will be glorious.”.. Knienvel

  4. Ms. Coolidge, this is an excellent written piece and I personally would like to thank you for taking the time to post it on your blog. You know Ms. Coolidge, try to get assisted suicide legal in not only the state of Florida, but anywhere in the Country. Take a look at what happened to Jack Kervorcian from Michigan. Whenever you shout: “assisted suicide” you’ll see all the medical lobyists come out of the wordwork. In 2006, the average cost to keep a terminal vegetable comotose petient alive was $5,000 per day! Yes, this was 3 years ago. Today’s costs would shock you. Ms. Coolidge, it’s all about the almighty dollar. The medical lobyists don’t give a damn about the patient, all they truly care about is raking in $$$ so they can drive home in their Mercedez 550 SL, go home to their McMansions, and spend their winters in the Caribbean, and their summers in Vail. Ms. Coolidge, same with the costs of prescriptions. Don’t even get me started on this one. Anyway’s, you get the point I am trying to convey. But all-in-all, this si the type of reporting I would like to see in our local newspapers. This type of journalism certainly is more refreshing than people with too much time on their hands who complain about someone stepping on “their sand” because they state they own all the beach from the waters edge to Mexico. But they certainly don’t cry when the Sarasota County maintenance trucks – whose labor is paid for by the very tax-payers who they are trying to kick off the sand. Ok, another subject you don’t want to bring up… Say, sorry for my getting a little off the main subject, My Bad ? << ok, now this friggin over-rated saying MUST go out in 2010! Please, if I hear: ” My Bad” one more friggin time, I’m going to put a poster of the Unconditional Surrender statue on every lawn on Long Boat Key. After all, they know what art’s all about, right?! Sure they do. If you don’t believe me, take a look at all the statues on St. Armand’s – All Made In CHINA! Now that’s art! Ok, stop me any time……

  5. Gropius — thanks for reading the blog and for commenting. I’m not in the same situation you are facing — where someone is elderly and suffering, but you definitely have my empathy because I can’t imagine more wrenching circumstances. I’ve been trying to find lately some information on how Native American elders dealt with the process of dying and death — I remember reading about it in college, but can’t recall the specifics. If I get more information, I’ll share it with you. Good luck!

  6. Eagleeye2you — thanks for your feedback on the suicide blog. It’s such a complex subject — hard to deal with in a short piece, but one that I think, increasingly, with the costs of health care decimating family financial security, with advances in medicine making it more andmore likely that a physical life can be saved long after the spirit is unwilling ….

    is going to become more and more a question — just what constitutes “being alive” and who decides our life and death choices for us.

  7. Mary, if anyone who visits your site doubts any of my post regarding the almightly dollar being greater than the human life, I ask your readers to read the information contained in the following link regarding the use of cell phones while driving and how it has been proven time-after time, that driving with either the use of a cell phone or wireless adapter, it’t the “conversation” the driver is in at the time which makes it 5 times more dangerous, than driving under the influence. Congress ordered the United States Traffic Division to withhold these findings from the media and public, as not to tick off the shareholders; Sprint, Altel, Verizon, ect…. It appears Congress’s pockets were not full enough. This was printed in today’s New York Times. Now, anyone tell me the dollar is not more important than human life. Just take a look at the scrupulous activities of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and how they cost the County billions in forclosures and placed South West Florida into a depression. Read on about the use of cell phones while driving and you tell me why Congress is hushing this up and “ordered” it swept under the carpet. Copy an dpaste this in your browser:

  8. here, just click on the following link:

    Mary, your comments and why there has been nothing in the media – Herald Tribune about this? The answer is very simple. Take a look at the advertising dollars the major cell companies pay each and every day…millions You print a story like this in the Sarasota, Herald-Tribune, and the cell companies will pull their adds. Now Mary, this is something you can relate to, am I not correct? It’s all about the dollar and to hell with morals or human life anymore. So sad…. Who can blame Michael Jackson for wanting to escape the pain and suffering that is today’s culture. Our society will not go down in history or be remembered like the society of the 1880’s, or the turn of the century when medical pioneers wanted to find cures for diseases, now it’s all about Doctors wanting to fill those pain-killer/anti-depresant prescriptions. Mary, did you know that more people die in Sarasota County due to prescription overdose than any county in the country?! Now, keep in mind, I am speaking of people per caplital. You doubt me, contact the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department. This society is all about screw you before you screw me. No matter what the cost.

  9. John, am I not correct?

  10. And John, before you begin with this Democrat this and this Republican that, it’s not about politics John dear man, it’s about the almighty dollar and how the thirst for that almighty dollar and the greed at wanting more, bigger, faster which put our country in the shape it’s in. My only wish, is that the next generation would have one tenth the balls – (sorry Mary), the 60’s generation had. Anyone doubts this as well, click on the link and view the photograph that was seen around the world and that put an end to the Viet Nam War:
    These students were gunned down in cold blood. But, at least their anti-war protests put the end to an endless war. Where is the courage the youth of the 60’s generation had? Sure, you sit and ask yourself; “why is this woman so angry, why is she making these posts whose verbiage may seem a little upset? Because I am upset. What this country needs, is a little ol’e fashioned revolution and overthrow the government.

  11. John W. Perkins
    July 22, 2009 at 11:34 am

    There is one universal constant: Things change.

    The idealistic generation of the 60s are the ones that discarded those values that seemed so right for the time and morphed into the crass consumers of the 70s, the “I want it all, and I want it now” of the 80s, the “Me Generation” of the 90s, to this most recent incarnation of mindless automatons of the “Nanny State”.

    What happened is, they got older, got married and had children, wanted more for their families so as to be considered “Proper”.

    As my Poli-sci professor pointed out to me so many decades ago, “the radicals are absorbed into the system and sedated.”.

    Case in point, the radical leftist activist, Jerry Ruben, became a part of “Acceptable Society”… “After the Vietnam War ended, Rubin became an entrepreneur and businessman. He was an early investor in Apple Computer.” Wikipedia

    Quite possibly, in the next decade, this new generation will regress/progress to the same lofty ideals (or something similar in a near unrecognizable incarnation) that we once held. And, the repeating cycle will stun us old farts.

    Finally, the circle within a circle will return to Power, Wealth, and Envy..

    Karma, neh ?

  12. John my friend, I read your post and certainly agree with you. You have some extremely valid points. You know John, having “survived the 60’s era, I would take back those days in a heart-beat, John, you have to admit, some of the best music came out of the 60’s; the Beatles, the Who, Hendrix, Joplin…. Man, I can go on forever….. Take a look at the cars from the 60’s.. But John, and I certainly appreciate your comments and you certainly are correct, as the baby boomers grew out of the 60’s, they became..well, the ones who survivied, ha.. turned out to be entrapeneurs..ok Mary, yo can incorporate spell check into your blog any time my dear… And John, I sincerely appreciate your comments and please excuse me if I appear, as I stated, my verbiage had some rather mad undertones, it’s just John, the greed that is out there today, is becomeing so damned transperant, it’s like they are shoving it in our faces and more or less saying to us: “well, and what do you think you are going to do about it” ?! And you know John, they are right, you can’t fight the power of the dollar. John, don’t know if ya read my post about Congress and their attempts at wanting to hush up the finings/statistics of how dangerous driving while talking on a cell is 5 times more dangerous than driving under the influence, just so they don’t piss off the shareholders. I mean John, what exactly are we going to do about it? This is the point I am trying to convery. John; how much more?

  13. John W. Perkins
    July 23, 2009 at 10:10 am

    “I mean John, what exactly are we going to do about it?”

    As for me, I do not answer my cellphone when driving. I pull off to the side of the road and respond.

    I also support legislation that restricts cellphone usage while operating a moving vehicle.

    I have found that trying to instill common sense in humans is usually a waste of time.

    Now, for my final word on suicide.. It’s ok for some, but not for me.


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