I believe that it should be up to individuals to determine when and how they die. For instance, if I am diagnosed with dementia, I would rather die (almost immediately) than subject my family and myself to that fate. When one’s consciousness has been severely compromised and will become increasingly impaired, life has lost its meaning.
Ideally, science and technology will defeat death and suffering, but in the meantime, I hope others respect my autonomy and allow me to die when I deem life no longer worth living—assuming this doesn’t put them in legal jeopardy. If I can no longer voice my preferences, I want my family to respect the wishes set out in my advanced directives for healthcare. Yes, death is a tragedy, one of the worst ones that can befall us, but there are fates worse than death.
On the contrary, some philosophers argue that death can never be a good thing for a person, that all lives are worth living, that there is no right to die, or that we are never “better off dead.”
However, I and many others disagree. We applaud the advanced directives for health care, sign our living wills, and ask our spouses, friends, sons, or daughters to act as our surrogates when we can’t speak for ourselves. We choose to forgo the remainder of lives deprived of those things that make life valuable—the ability to love, think, touch, reflect, and remember—for the uncertainty of death. We prefer not to debase human life or glorify suffering but to exercise human autonomy.
So for those who believe there is meaning in the most excruciating forms of physical pain and dementia, who believe that we are never “better off dead”—let them be free to suffer or carry on if they so choose. But for those of us who believe that, at least sometimes, we are “worse off alive”—let others respect our autonomy as well.1
1There is no tension between my views here and my transhumanism. I want the option to live indefinitely but also the option to end my life if I find it no longer worth living.