Books & arts
The right to die
The Inevitable. By Katie Engelhart.
If it is humane to put down a dog in unbearable and incurable pain, why not extend the same right to humans if they want it? That question echoes through “ The Inevitable” as it follows four people in search of a good death—and in fear of a bad one.
Katie Engelhart’s deeply researched and beautifully reported book raises familiar quandaries. Do people have a right to die on their own terms? Should doctors help? Do motivations matter? And might a right become a duty for everyone who grows old, dependent or demented? It also considers less publicised problems, such as: how do people actually die? Advances in medicine and technology that have made pills and appliances safer have made it harder to achieve an “ easy” or “peaceful” death for those who seek one.
As policymakers and ethicists ponder these moral conundrums, around the world people are taking matters into their own hands, a trend that gives Ms Engelhart’s book its urgency. Faced with intolerable suffering, her subjects have largely given up on laws and doctors and instead turn to strangers on the internet for help. For instance, Avril Henry, a British octogenarian, spent her nights “marinating in her pain” and considered eating lethal fungi from her garden to end it. But “death by mushroom could be slow, messy, painful. The Nembutal would work better.” The “Peaceful Pill Handbook” suggested buying that drug from either a vet-supply store in Mexico or the Chinese black market. Doubtful about Chinese merchandise, Henry settled on Mexico.
Over several years, Ms Engelhart’s main characters meticulously plan their escapes from old age, dementia and chronic or mental illness. She also follows two doctors, one of whom lost his licence for teaching people how to “exit” via “DIY death seminars”.