My right to a peaceful death

Doug Jacquier

From the UN Declaration on Human Rights

Article 1

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 5

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

I assert my right to die when I choose and to do so peacefully, with the assistance of modern science.
In all of the ponderous discussions in public and in various legislatures about assisted dying, my rights in this matter do not rate a mention, let alone receive protection. 

There is no questioning of the role of the State or the medical profession as central players nor of the focus exclusively on terminal cases near to death. Any notion of the right to die with dignity at a point of your own choosing is totally ignored.

At the moment, some jurisdictions have implemented or are on the verge of implementing various versions of assisted dying legislation. All of these centre on two core elements: the person must have a terminal illness (and must be certified as coherent and not depressed) and a bevy of medical people will decide who has access to the procedure.

These provisions clearly exclude people who are in excruciating agony but are not going to die very soon, people with long term or acquired disabilities that make their life a misery, and people who have decided that there is little point in their continued existence for a multitude of reasons but don’t want to die violently, to name but a few categories.

Even more importantly, they exclude people who want to express their wishes when they are of sound mind and body to have their life terminated under certain conditions that may occur in the future e.g. they are demented and don’t know who anybody is anymore, they are reduced to sitting drugged in a nursing home having food forced in one end and wiped up at the other, they are in a coma and unlikely to recover etc.

It is indisputable that many people remain on this mortal coil due to highly profitable drugs and eye-wateringly expensive health services. And of course many of the medically compromised are so as a result of the self-inflicted wounds of overindulgence in food, smoking and alcohol. 

I fit into all of those risk groups. The ultimate irony is that over a lifetime I have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes on those items to the benefit of the accidentally injured and unwell.

But what if I decide not to be part of the health care system in my later life and choose to get out of everybody’s way? Say I have been diagnosed with lung cancer, for argument’s sake. The medical profession would want to put me through months of chemo, radiation and whatever other experimental treatments they’ve invented recently, accompanied by the use of lots of highly expensive machines that go ping. 

Almost certainly I’d be in pain and discomfort throughout. Then, eventually, when the doctors agree that my illness is terminal and incurable, I would have to apply for permission to go, which wouldn’t be granted if they decide I’m depressed. Let me put it to you that depression would be the only rational response in that scenario.

How we got here, in my view, is that gradually the idea that we all should be allowed, and want to, to live as long as possible, in any condition possible, has taken over any rational analysis by both electors and governments and abolished any notion of the cycle of life.

Most people over 60 have had more than enough time to live a productive life and nurture the next generation, growing food, making things, fixing things, selling things, teaching, writing a novel or any number of other worthwhile pursuits. Without major medical interventions and medications, most would pop their clogs in their seventies, with a smaller cohort winning the lottery of life into their eighties and beyond. 

If anyone ever bothered to ask them, on a confidential basis, I believe the vast majority of older people would say they would like to have the choice to depart this life peacefully and painlessly when their body, and more importantly, their brain, fails them to the point of incapacity. Many signal this openly through a range of end-of-life instructions, including Do Not Resuscitate (DNR).

However even when they leave strict instructions in this regard, their wishes are often ignored by doctors and families who refuse to come to grips with their own mortality and are, in fact, the real underminers of ‘God’s will’ or the natural cycle of life (whichever you prefer.) What we would do in the blink of an eye for a suffering pet suddenly becomes unthinkable.

Those who have the physical capacity, but have been denied a humane ending, are condemned to do violence to themselves. It would seem society would prefer you left a mess for emergency services to clean up when people shoot themselves, or hang themselves, or slit their wrists in the bath or drown at sea. Where is the compassion, let alone the common decency, to recognise what the UN calls cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment?

Economically and socially, we have created a society where mere existence trumps a meaningful life and an entire industry has grown up to cash in on it and beggar the following generations in the process. The net result is that we have developed an unsustainable health care system and an aged care system that is eating up an increasing proportion of our GDP and beggaring the futures of the generations that follow. For example, several studies have shown that the cost of futile end-of-life treatments alone add up to hundreds of millions of dollars.

I think we need a society that accepts the adult individual’s right to depart this mortal coil as and when they please without stigma, without interference from laws, doctors or families, and with the as-of-right assistance of drugs that make that possible.

In the name of all things humane, let me go when I want to and not when society decides to give me an early minute.

9th July 2022

DOUG JACQUIER has lived in many places across Australia, including regional and remote communities, and has travelled extensively overseas. His poems and stories have been published in Australia, the US, the UK and Canada. He blogs at Six Crooked Highways (

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