Monday, June 23, 2014


I know personally, having lived in Oregon, that there are people who are hurt — grieved very much by a loved one who thought so little of their relationship that they ended their life.
Dr. Bill Toffler, quoted in: "How A Woman's Plan To Kill Herself Helped Her Family Grieve"
Although, to me, this smacks of: "If you loved me you would...", let me take Dr. Toffler at his word for a moment, and place myself in the position of a person who is contemplating suicide because of a conviction that my life is heading into a place that I an unable to change and unable to accept. Furthermore, I think very little of the relationships I have with the people who love me - in other words, I do not find those relationships, and the grief that their ending will cause those other people, as reason enough to accept the state that I am going to find myself in.

While I think I understand Dr. Toffler's viewpoint, I'm not sure that his conclusion - that how much a person values a relationship can be directly measured via their willingness to do whatever it takes to delay the onset of grieving process in the other person - is an objective one. The relationships between people are often much to complex to be boiled down to a single factor in this way, especially one so emotionally charged.

So let's imagine the person of Alex. Alex thinks quite a lot of our relationship. I, on the other hand, would not miss Alex if I never saw them again. If I choose remain alive, at the cost of entering the unpleasant place that I dreaded entering, and Alex is comforted, does that mean that I actually think more highly of Alex than I did before? Is the fact that I am still available for Alex to have a relationship with proof that I think highly of that relationship, in spite of my disregard for Alex? If not, what is the difference in the reverse?

Understanding that a long life for someone is something that we want for them, something that we want for ourselves or both is tricky because it become very easy to entangle the idea of death as a pathology from which we would like to rescue a person with the idea of death as loss from which we would like to rescue ourselves. This allows (although it does not demand) us to conflate our interests with those of another - and in doing so, avoid being subjected to the charge that I feel that Dr. Toffler is really making - that of selfishness.

But even selfishness is a subjective determination, driven by our individual standards of what is reasonable. And in the end, I think that's where things begin to break down. Issues around end-of-life become caught up in a tug-of-war between two parties over who has the greater claim. And we understand that at different points along the path, the balance shifts from one party to another. Where those points are vary for different people. For some people, a sick or dying individual's obligations to others go beyond the point of competence and lucidity. For others, our obligations to the sick and dying mean allowing them to choose while they are still able to do so. While we can search for a single standard that applies in all cases, we're unlikely to ever find one. While we may find a certain comfort in criticizing those who draw lines differently than we do, or who are not sufficiently willing to be who we are not, in the end, there are no bright lines, and declaring that we can determine a person's inner life based solely on a single action isn't enough to draw one.

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