You cannot reach a certain age without death becoming a preoccupation. It’s not whether it will happen but how it will happen. We don’t want to suffer; we don’t want our loved ones to suffer. We don’t want to lose our dignity by becoming totally reliant on others and reverting to a kind of infancy. This is not for me — I think, I think. (I’ll tell you more when I get there.)
Inexorably, we are mocking the cliche that death is just a part of life. In his exhilarating new book, “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” the historian Yuval Noah Harari tells us of King Edward I of England (1239-1307) and his wife, Queen Eleanor (1241-1290). She bore 16 children, of whom 10 died in childhood. Death was so common for our ancestors — even the richest of them — that it was indeed part of life. Now, for a parent to outlive a child is a rare event and a dreadful tragedy.
Harari pushes on. He foresees the death of death: “A few serious scholars suggest that by 2050, some humans will become a-mortal,” meaning they could always die by accident but not by disease. “For men of science,” he writes later on, “death is not an inevitable destiny, but merely a technical problem.”…
Before that happens, I will die. This is certain and I don’t like it one bit — and I don’t like, either, that future generations will look back and wonder what it was like to live with death, not lots of it but the certainty of it. But as long as it is going to happen, I want my say over it. I want the same control over the end that I have had over what came before it. This is all that Brittany Maynard wanted. I salute her common sense and a courage that, in a fearful time to come, I may well envy.