Grace Dent: Modern life can be horrific. But assisted suicide is the easy – and often wrong – option, so don’t let the likes of Dignitas dignify it

A retired teacher ended her life because she ‘couldn’t adapt to the modern world’


On 29 March, Anne – we know only her first name – killed herself because she was fed up with modern life. She was 89 and not terminally ill – just terminally sick of email and irritated by the rise of ready-meals. She fretted about the environment and thought the internet age had made us all “robots”. I have moments where I know exactly how she felt. Rather worryingly, don’t we all?

What intelligent person doesn’t log-on to their computer from time-to-time, staring at the sea of work demands, nags, passive-aggressive reminders and sponsorship begging, only to dream of a bygone age where people contacted us mainly by second-class post?

And so many people can’t peel a potato these days –can’t even feed themselves. I saw it on TV. Kids can’t even recognise a carrot even when Jamie Oliver is holding the aforementioned long pointy-ended orange vegetable while dressed as a  carrot himself.

Oh it makes me depressed. Modern life can be horrific, But because I am young – ok I’m 40 – and modern life can also be incredible. It’s full of WhatsApp chats, feminist triumphs, dancing to Destiny’s Child at 3am in stupid nightclubs, long-haul holidays, speedy Ocado deliveries, and, not least, it’s filled with full-time work which fools me into feeling I have great world‑changing purpose.

It seems that Anne, being 89, didn’t have as many of the good bits. The silly bits and the purposeful bits had evaporated, so she ended up drinking a lethal cocktail of barbiturates at a Dignitas clinic and passed away “with quiet determination”, according to Michael Irwin, the founder of the Society for Old Age Rational Suicide.

When Anne was younger she was a Royal Navy Engineer and had also taught art. Her pre-death interview indicates that she was an erudite woman, not in pain, who was in fact killing herself because she was bewildered and deflated by an ever-changing world. She sounds, to me, depressed. I’d prefer Citalopram, not organised suicide, for the elderly. We cannot, I feel, condone suicide for elderly people who are just a bit sick of it all.

I have quietly supported assisted suicide for years. I haven’t loudly supported it because giving an increasingly free hand to people like Dignitas in an age of worldwide rising mental-health problems always felt precarious. Still, assisted suicide for the gravely sick, for those in a degenerative state, for those in the ghoulish grips of endless pain – this I can understand.

It is difficult to watch a documentary such as Louis Theroux’s Edge of Life – involving dying cancer patients – and feel that a little help in pushing people kindly into “that good night” is wrong. But elderly, downcast people who just can’t see “the point”? They should be cheered up, made to feel included, cherished, and – if needs be – medicated for their mood-dips.

As family members become elderly, the journey is tricky. Increasingly one becomes the adult and they become the child. They become stubborn and at times unable to be reasoned with. You become infuriated, they become isolated. Once proud, diligent people become increasingly likely to let burglars into their house, to respond to telephone scams, to stop feeding and caring for themselves, and now – in Anne’s case – people are planning their own suicide because they are sick of the rise of emails and the lack of the human touch.

In Anne’s request to Dignitas, she referred to her lack of energy, and she said that declining health had left her with “a life with no enviable future.” She said of the modern age: “I find myself swimming against the current. If you can’t join them, get off.”

I have a dream about what an old folks’ home might be like when I reach the age of 89. It’s a jolly, stimulating place where a load of us old gits watch Mad Men and Seinfeld from the beginning in a warm TV room. There will be nice snacks. There’s a music room for us all to bring vinyl and jabber on about our days of clubbing. There’s decent food, good, cheery nurses, days out at the pub, romances, projects and visitors for everyone as we all have a bit of a laugh before popping off – one by one – to the infinite heavenly nothing. It’s a small dream of feeling purposeful and included  to the end.

I’m sorry that Anne didn’t feel like that. I hope others won’t  copy her.

Twitter: @gracedent

Read more:
Retired British art teacher ends life at Dignitas ‘because she couldn’t adapt to modern world’

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