Bioethics Blogs

WWII Fighter Pilot Tries to Hasten Death to Avoid Bad Death

Quentin Aanenson was a World War II fighter pilot.  He made his recollections and feelings public as one of the principal participants in Ken Burns’ powerful TV documentary “The War.” 

Aanenson recounted one incident which roughly illustrates why someone with a terminal illness might want aid in dying.  On August 3, 1944, on a mission over Vire, France, Aanenson’s plane was hit by flak and caught on fire. He tried to bail out but couldn’t.  So, Aanenson put his plane into a steep dive, trying to crash as quickly as possible.  He was only at 4000 feet at the time.  Fortunately, the change in air pressure extinguished the cockpit fire, and Aanenson managed to fly back to his base.

Given the cockpit fire, Aanenson figured that he was going to die no matter what.  But how?  Aanenson and his fellow pilots had discussed that burning to death would be a terrible way to die.  So, to avoid that bad death, Aanenson put his plane into the steep dive to achieve a quicker less painful death.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.