We’re all going to die. All of us. Even you, reading this over a stranger’s shoulder on the bus. No one is immune and no one will escape. It’s the most certain of things, the life event that comes with a 100 per cent guarantee. Attending university, getting married, and bringing up children are all variables to be chosen or shunned. But death? Death is one thing we can rely on.
Predicable as it is, however, we don’t like talking about dying. It’s as if we think that by not mentioning the inevitable, we’ll somehow escape its cold, clammy grasp and continue living, breathing, eating, dancing, and updating our Facebook statuses long after our friends have shuffled off their mortal coils.
Bucking the trend is 79-year-old British Bake Off star Mary Berry, who has spoken out about her own mortality, saying she has “no desire to be a centenarian” and that she would rather be given a pill to end her life at 90 than become a burden to her family. Berry, whose own mother died aged 105, says old age is unappealing if you “haven’t got your marbles”.
It’s a bold statement, but it’s one we should applaud. Especially since, according to a survey conducted by Dying Matters Coalition, eight in 10 Britons are uncomfortable talking about dying and death and as a result, more than half of us don’t know their partners’ end of life wishes.
We shouldn’t be afraid to have a difficult conversation about dying, and assisted dying in particular. It’s not uncommon for parents to worry about burdening their children as they grow older and more dependent, but admitting so is still something of a taboo.
We’re gradually becoming more accepting of the fact that some terminally ill patients want to end their lives, skirting the agony of living only to die slowly. But what of the elderly who have batted a good innings and simply want to leave the pitch on a high before they’re caught out by the devils that are dementia or Alzheimer’s?
We spend our entire lives trying to cheat the inevitable: eating healthily, not drinking or smoking too much, exercising regularly and taking care when we cross the road. But there comes a point when, if you’ve squeezed every last drop of joy out of life and if you’re content with your lot, you should be legally allowed to choose (choice is essential) to bow out gracefully and with dignity, while you still have the cognitive abilities needed to make the all-important decision.
Research published last month showed that of the 611 people who travelled to Switzerland to end their lives between 2008-2012, 126 were from UK, suggesting that the law in this country is flawed, and maybe it’s because we’re simply too scared to talk about our own mortality. It does feel counter-intuitive to end lives when normally we’re hell-bent on saving them. But for some, like Berry, the relief of knowing you won’t leave family and friends burdened and fraught by your incapacity would only make the final few years more life-affirming.