Bioethics Blogs

A Fate Worse than Death

Letitia Meynell explains why assisted dying is an important option for the terminally ill.

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I have long thought that physician-assisted death ought to be allowed in any compassionate society. However, watching my mother die from pancreatic cancer last year left me feeling that not allowing terminally ill Canadians the right to an assisted death is obscene. I recognize that many people worry that legalizing assisted death will make members of our society more callous. I suspect that this view depends on thinking about dying in the abstract, instead of looking at the real experiences that people go through when they get so very ill that they die.

Having watched my mother waste away and witnessed her suffering in the last days of her life, I have little patience for sanitized accounts of death that portray it as courageous, peaceful, or beautiful. For many of us, though thankfully not all, our last waking moments, days and sometimes months will be humiliating, excruciating, and terrifying.

Most of us agree that dying is not the worst thing that can happen to a person. Presumably, that’s why we have the phrase “a fate worse than death.” And it’s a good thing that there are worse things than dying. After all, we are all going to die and it would be a pretty sad world if the worst thing that could happen to anyone, actually happens to everyone.

I suppose that there are some who think that there really is no fate worse than death. While this strikes me as displaying an extraordinary lack of imagination, there is, I expect, little I could say to change their minds.

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.