Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Why won’t Stephen Hawking just die?

I saw a movie recently, A short stay in Switzerland. It’s the story of Dr Anne Turner. She was a (retired) English doctor, living with supranuclear palsy, an incurable degenerative disease. In 2006, Dr Turner travelled to Zurich, Switzerland. With the help of Dignitas (a Swiss ‘assisted dying’ group), she decided to take her own life.

The film presented the argument for both sides. It showed the debates she had with her kids, the arguments she had with her friends and her rationalization for the decision.

The story is tragic. Her suffering was awful. Her right to die in peace, justified.

Dignitas, and the world-view that supports assisted suicide, is a very humane world-view. It is a world view that says that the suffering individual has the right to die, peacefully. It is a world-view that says that no-one should suffer. It is the world-view that values the individual

It is also a world-view that places a limited value on a person’s existence. A value that is limited to the physical. A value, or lack there-of, that is defined by suffering. A value that is defined by the individual.

As we, as a society, value people less, people feel less valued. People who suffer are seen as a burden to our society. People who suffer feel that they are a burden. Family and friends gather around and say sad/silly/selfish things like: “I can’t stand to see them suffer”. And the ones who are suffering believe it to be true. The old, and the aging, are viewed as weak physical bodies, with not much value to offer the world.

And it’s true. Suffering is hard to watch. Suffering is hard to go through. If the value of one’s existence is not being appreciated by the world, or by one’s self, then there is no point to live. Add to all that the fact that suffering/aging/disease is also associated with a monetary cost.

With that kind of societal view, there are many reasons to die.

Hey, with that kind of world view, there are many reasons to kill

Stephen Hawking is highly regarded in the areas of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, with an academic career spanning 40 years. He has received much acclaim and many awards. He has written many books and papers. He lectures around the world. His bestseller, A Brief History of Time, was on the British Sunday Times bestseller list for a record-breaking 237 weeks

Stephen Hawking is also severely disabled. He has neuro muscular dystrophy that is related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. He cannot speak (without a computer); he cannot breathe too well (a machine helps); he cannot eat (without assistance); he cannot bathe (without help); he cannot wipe his own backside. He lives a life of complete (physical) suffering, and unspeakable indignity.

Why won’t Stephen Hawking just die?

He his suffering. He is in emotional pain. He lives a life with no dignity. His life is an inconvenience to his family and friends. His medical bills are huge. His body is, in many ways, dead.

After all, he is really suffering. And with all those tubes, those pipes and the wheelchair, we can’t stand to watch him suffer.

We should let Steven Hawking die peacefully. We should let Dignitas help him with that.

That would be humane

Or maybe we should just kill him

1 comment:

  1. Stephen Hawking's life has been an inspiration to many. He deserves all the plaudits applied to him. I was a care assistant, looking after a man who had the same condition as Professor Hawking. That man was well cared for by the staff in the home where I worked. He was well loved by his wife. He squeezed every ounce from his life, confined as he was to a wheelchair. I never considered his life an inconvenience, and the staff did everything in their power to ensure he never lost his dignity. I honestly feel that your comments display a lack of knowledge relating to the care of the disabled. Stephen Hawking could have given up a long time ago but he didn't. He still shows a tenacity which is admirable. In any case, do you know that Hawking is in pain? Have you asked him?
    He is married to a lady who loves him and is devoted to him. Have you asked her how she would feel about him ending his life? No. He shouldn't give up; he still has much that he can give. His body my have been stilled, but his mind continues to ponder the universe. The poet Dylan Thomas said it best: Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage. Rage against the dying of the light.