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Jay Lake
Date: 2013-11-13 09:03
Subject: [cancer] Assisted suicide and the will to live
Security: Public
Tags:cancer, child, death, family, friends, health, personal, radiantlisa
Yesterday someone asked me why, if I was so miserable, I didn't go ahead with assisted suicide, as provided for by the Oregon Death With Dignity Act. Voluntary euthanasia has been legal here for many years, the primary criteria being that the patient is mentally competent to request it, the request be made both verbally and in writing, and that the patient be terminally ill with six months or less to live.

While I frankly didn't appreciate the question very much, on reflection I realized it was a fair one.

The short answer is my will to live. As Lisa Costello has said, if will to live were sufficient for survival, I'd live forever. I can imagine letting go in the very late stages of my terminal decline, if I were overwhelmed by the physical and psychic pain of dying, but not short of that.

The slightly longer answer is that [info]the_child needs me. My lovers, friends and family need me. I need me. Like most people, I dwell in the center of an interwoven tapestry of love and obligation and joy and desire and support, and I don't want to tear myself out of that place any sooner than I have to.

The more complex answer, as simple as it may be on the surface, is my atheism. Despite thousands of years of wishful thinking and uncountable faith narratives from virtually every human culture, there is not one shred of objective, repeatable evidence for the survival of self beyond the death of the brain. When I die, I will experience personal extinction. That's not a belief, that's not a theory; that's a simple, empirical fact borne out by the experience of every human being who has ever lived and died before me. While I'd love to be an exception, given that basic truth of course I want to hang around the party as long as possible.

One final point: once I'm dead, I won't know the difference. But many other people I care about will. So for them, I live as long as I can.

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russ: zen
User: goulo
Date: 2013-11-13 16:04 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Makes sense to me!

(And that is good that Oregon is so progressive/enlightened about letting such a personal thing be legal. There's sure nothing like that in Catholic-dominated Poland...)


Although... (if pointless philosophical/semantic nitpickery is in order) I see the question of the existence of god to be a separate independent question from the existence of an eternal soul that lives on past our bodily death (analogous to the existence of magic, for example), so to me it's not "atheism" per se which makes me want to hang around this party longer, but rather lack of belief in an afterlife.

Granted, there's no scientific evidence for either god or an afterlife, and belief in one seems to usually accompany belief in the other for most people, as justified by the same religious sources for both beliefs... but I can see no logical/philosophical necessity for them to be considered equivalent: I can certainly conceive of the existence of a god who created us such that there's nothing left of us after we die. And I can certainly conceive of us our selves somehow continuing after our bodily deaths, without the need of any god having caused that.

But that's perhaps just a question of short-hand labeling... there doesn't seem a convenient short word for not believing in an afterlife like there is "atheism" for not believing in god... "non-life-after-death-ism" just doesn't roll off the tongue in the same way...
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Andrew Trembley
User: bovil
Date: 2013-11-13 21:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Think of atheism as not believing in the supernatural. Popular supernatural frameworks are all associated with some religion. "Afterlife" pretty much requires a supernatural framework to support the concept. Not believing in the central tenet of a supernatural framework (god or gods) pretty much brings the whole framework crashing down.
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russ: zen
User: goulo
Date: 2013-11-13 22:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well, as mcjulie points out, there are "real world" counterexample religions in both directions.

But I'm not so interested in what establishment religions say about it; I was talking about the logical/philosophical point that "god" and "afterlife" are 2 quite different things.

And in any case, even if you believe that god is necessary for an afterlife to exist, it doesn't prove that god implies an afterlife exists. For all theists know, god created us to die and that's all... :)
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User: mcjulie
Date: 2013-11-13 21:44 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well, if I'm remembering my comparative religions correctly, Buddhism could be called an atheistic religion with an afterlife, as most forms don't have an ultimate God figure, while early Jews had an ultimate God figure without an afterlife concept.

So I'm not sure the two are as inevitably entwined as our Christianish cultural background leads us to assume.
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User: mcjulie
Date: 2013-11-13 21:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
once I'm dead, I won't know the difference. But many other people I care about will. So for them, I live as long as I can.

That is pretty much the best argument for why not to kill yourself there could ever be.
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User: deborahjross
Date: 2013-11-13 18:44 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:blue hills
I've recently had a number of conversations with a person with a terminal diagnosis who wanted the option of Death With Dignity but waited too long to begin the process. And was royally pissed with the choice between the amount of narcotics necessary to be comfortable and the clarity of mind necessary to give informed consent. The anger passed, and the remaining time was filled with unexpected blessings. The person and family had more time to put unfinished business to rest and to say goodbye. And every day brought a moment or a dozen of fragile, transcendent beauty.

You never know.
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asakiyume: feathers on the line
User: asakiyume
Date: 2013-11-14 13:39 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:feathers on the line
So glad to hear this.
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User: martianmooncrab
Date: 2013-11-13 19:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Which is why Oregon is a wonderful place to live, but the law isnt mandatory for residents..

When its time, its time. You got too much to do ..
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Chris McKitterick: Galaxy magazine cover
User: mckitterick
Date: 2013-11-13 20:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Galaxy magazine cover
Pleased to hear it, Jay. I completely understand your attitude on this, and it much reflects how I think I'll feel one day when facing the question. Heck, I never completed the act when contemplating it due to unbearable emotional suffering, and I had the means right at hand, so I suspect the same'll be true when I face the question for health reasons one day - as we all will, no matter how Kurzweil-esque our hopes.

Life and people and the universe and discovery are all so full of wonder, it's tremendously difficult to let go when something cool is always just around the corner... and ceases to be in our personal universe once we cease to be.

A local acquaintance has been arrested for 1st degree murder of a marriage partner, and everyone who knows this person (and the sick partner) has a feeling it was assisted suicide.

The toughest issues arise near the end of life, and we'll all support you however you face things. Your choices so far seem thoughtful and brave, and I hope your openness about things are helping others in similar situations.
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jtdiii: Bio
User: jtdiii
Date: 2013-11-14 00:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Too much to do, too many friends to see and cute women to flirt with. Don't stop till they drag you kicking and screaming into the coffin.
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User: makoiyi
Date: 2013-11-14 01:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It is a good philosophy to have. I didn't believe in any kind fo afterlife until my son passed. Even then I justified everything that happened with 'memory'. In other words, whatever I felt/experienced after he'd gone, I logically put down to something within my own mind. But as time goes on and reminders happen, and the grief and emotions lessen and things still happen - then, no. I don't believe in 'god' either and while I might be classed as romantically hoping - no. Not any more. There is something. Scientifically/logically, I haven't worked it out, because why would everyone keep it so *secret*, but as time moves on I can see the reasons, frustrating as they often are.
But, I agree with you, to never give up. Because there are people who need you. That is more important right now. Love your strength and courage. Never negate that. But spark a little for when/if you do pass on, because me, the biggest skeptic int he world has been convinced there is more.
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Reynardo the Red
User: reynardo
Date: 2013-11-14 03:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm glad you have a choice, glad you've been able to think about, and glad you've made your choice. Although still pissed off that you are in the situation where it even has to come up!

Fuck cancer.
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User: yourbob
Date: 2013-11-14 06:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm actually surprised you didn't appreciate the question. Of course I'm not privy to how it was framed initially, but, phrased politely, it seems a fair and inquiring question of anyone with a debilitating terminal disease.

Your answer surprises me not at all if course. Atheism completely aside, not removing yourself from the life of others before your body says so is itself an excellent reason.</p>

Just for conversation: I'm not sure how the Oregon law is framed, but I'm pretty sure you don't have to go through with it, especially on any time table, after you are "approved". I understand from news reports that a lot of people take comfort in knowing they have the means at hand, enough comfort that they never decide to carry it out.

I know once I decided ""how" my depression related suicidal ideation became hugely less frequent and of shorter duration, with the result that I'm less depressed.

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Agent Mimi
User: agent_mimi
Date: 2013-11-25 08:42 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
In my opinion -- not to be confused with reality, or with Jay's opinion, of course -- it wasn't framed politely. It was the standard passive-aggressive "if you're so miserable why don't you die already" kind of thing, and it was heinous, and was followed up with Ron, the one who posed the question, making demands on Jay regarding the content of his blog.

All that said, Jay has been remarkably kind, considerate and respectful to Ron, and Jay's reply here is tremendous. He's sharing immensely personal information with us by his own choice, and I don't think it's our place to demand more of him than all he has already given. Polite or not, demanding to know whether Jay or anyone with a serious illness has thought about assisted suicide seems less "fair" than inappropriate to me.
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