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The right to choose


When I was younger and life was simpler, I had a simple calculation for the value of life.

Before marriage, before children, before grandchildren, before career, before the endless curling, intertwined roots of responsibility and guilt, I worked it out to the simplest of forms, a kind of empirical set of boxes to be checked to establish whether life was worth living.

Life, I thought, would be of value for as long as I loved the feeling of a warm shower on my back, when I could lean back and feel the water finger through my hair. For as long as I could go outside in spring or summer after a light rain and smell the heady wet earth and the brassy metal smell that quickly passing rain brings with it. For as long as, heading outdoors, I could catch the smoke from a fall woodstove and try to decide whether it was burning birch or spruce.

As long as those small, magic experiences still existed and thrilled me, I couldn’t imagine choosing to give them up.

It helped a lot in dark days — because we all have dark days, ones that can take us to the brink. There are times when simple pleasures bring you back, just because of the constancy of their colours, tastes and sounds.

I suspect I’ll be back there one day, back to that simpler equation, as will most of us as everyone close to us grows up, dies or moves on with their own lives, when we’re left once again with a small enough backpack of responsibility to have the luxury of trying to divine if there is a point where we’d rather stop.

Anyone who is or has watched their parents age knows what I mean: their world reaches a point where it shrinks to a small daily circle — sometimes, so small that it is a sharp and painful point.

I imagine there may come a point for me, for most of us, when there is no real quality of life, when constant pain is too great, when weakness leaves me with horizons that are a bare four walls in one small room.

I won’t appreciate, then, anyone who would want to make my decisions for me. And that’s what troubles me most about a broad swathe of the assisted dying debate: I see no reason why anyone, regardless of the strength of their faith and belief, has a right to dictate how I will live — or not live — my life. For many people, that decision, if not the most important of their lives, may well eventually wind up becoming the central decision that remains for them.

If there is assisted dying legislation, as there will eventually be, anyone with contrary beliefs and faith will still have the right to live and die as they see fit.

Others have no right to impose their beliefs on me in life and, generally, we recognize that. You can’t make me go to your church. You can chide me or think less of me for not echoing your morals, but you can’t punish me for it.

People with other beliefs should have no rights over my choice in death, either. Don’t think that is right for you to make a comforting salve for your soul at my real, physical expense.

When the sun on my face doesn’t make me smile, when the wind through the open car window doesn’t lift me to imagine the wonders yet to be seen, when life itself becomes too much — or too small — I should get to make my own decisions. And you, yours.

 

Russell Wangersky is TC Media’s Atlantic regional columnist. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@tc.tc — Twitter: @Wangersky.

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