The right to choose

Northern Pen - - EDUCATION HOMELESSNESS - Rus­sell Wanger­sky East­ern Pas­sages

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.

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