What life is worth living. A few more comments needed on this. The plight of this man deeply affected me. Essentially the disavowal of allowing someone the right to die is an act of discrimination against a disabled person. The right to live and the right to die cannot be separated from one another. The ability to live does not make sense without the ability to die. And yet it seems the right to live is prefaced with a variety of demands. Some we are acutely aware of. To live I must respect others around me; to live I must undertake a soul-destroying occupation to buy food and water etc. And then some demands we become aware of after having a stroke, or getting cancer or being diagnosed with MS. A life worth living becomes a problematic proposition. We have to adjust and care and keep adapting to an ever-worsening state of existence. We might then want to utilise that right we always had; that right to end our own life.
In many ways the pro-lifers have much in common with happiness campaigners. They could join forces to become some mega-obnoxious super power. Both maintain an ignorance of those elements of life that disrupt and destablise the life we lead. The pro-lifers/happiness proponents start from the point of positivity, that is to say, from believing life is always an amazing experience (or at least should be). What life is worth living is constructed around this. A life is thus a happy one – filled with pre-designed happy objects like marriage, having children, getting a mortage. This type of life is the most important thing and it must be obtained at all costs. This ladens us with obligations, a persistent imperative to live a certain way. It acts to narrow the possible ways to live a life. And by extension it discriminates against the many different ways people actually live their lives.
Whereas I have always believed it better to start from the fact of death. What life is worth living is constructed around the recognition of death. Perhaps those who grow up within the landscape of death are more forcibly aware of this. With death as our centre we can begin to construct the things that matter. With positivity as the centre, outward appearance holds precedence; we believe in self-improvement; we believe in some essential aspects of ourselves; we ignore our mortality (our futility). In this thinking conformity becomes a collective way of fostering a happy delusion. It creates the impression that there is nothing to be mourned.
But with death as our centre, there is everything to be lost. And we keep losing all the time. Life is not a progression or a collation of objects and attributes. With death as the centre life is not a journey because death is there as easily as life is here. Life is a moment now, death is a moment then. But the link between the two does not have to be a journey, a process through a set of social landmarks. It could be incoherent, chaotic, messy. What life is worth living without this? To live a life without the ability to come undone or feel destroyed? When traumatic events occur we seek to cover things over in the guise of recovery. To re-cover things to make them appear as they once were. Resilience becomes a pathological attachment to this positive happy life we have been taught is worth living.
I am not advocating suffering. Here’s to hoping we all live a life full of vitalism and hap. But I will say this (and paraphrase Sara Ahmed, again): what might happen if we didn’t strive to overcome traumatic events, what if we attend to bad feelings in order to understand how we are affected by those things that come near. A life with death as our centre can grow in myriad dimensions. We start with an absence – we start from without, without obligations, expectations, only a knowledge of the fleeting and contingent, and the spontaneity of emotions.
The right to jump off a building. That’s what makes a life worth living.