A scene from the Pearly Gates

I’ve been thinking about death a lot (sorry!).

It’s been prompted in part by Diving Bell and the Butterfly, that book-turned-lushly gorgeous but sad film by and about Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor of French Elle, who, after a stroke, had “locked-in syndrome”. Harry Potter fans will recognise the condition: Hermione Granger’s petrification is the equivalent.

Locked-in syndrome is quite appalling: your mind is fully operational, but nothing physical works. Would you want to carry on living? Can’t say I would. Bauby dealt with it by writing a book using the only thing that worked – one eyelid – to communicate.

We’re very weird about letting people die. There are one or two countries in Europe which allow terminally ill or chronically damaged people to choose the time and manner of their own passing, but mostly we’re hopelessly committed to grimly hanging on.
There was a bit of a landmark decision in Italy this week, when, after a ten-year process, a court granted a father the right to have his comatose daughter, Eluana Englaro, disconnected from her feeding tubes after 16 years. She’d been in a vegetative state since a car accident at the age of 21. Predictably, the Vatican was outraged. I’m wondering whether there’ll be a showdown at the Pearly Gates: the Pope on one hand, the judge and the father on the other, and – I wonder if Eluana will be allowed to adjudicate? Because in her case, I know what I’d want to say...

Anyway, the point is that death is not the worst thing that can happen. I think I speak for many when I say that I profoundly hope that my death will come late in life, will be dignified, and, ideally, happen so fast I haven’t got time to go blind, develop dementia, become incontinent, start to embrace a purple rinse, or develop an unreasonable obsession for barley sugar sweets.

(Heather Parker, Health24, November 2008)

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