Last week I had the great fortune of seeing Maria Popova of Bran Pickings, ideas collator and connector extraordinaire, and hear her speak about her 7 learnings from 7 years of Brain Pickings. If you don’t know what Brain Pickings is, go there now. I’ll see you back here next year.
If you’ve stayed, I managed to buy a copy of this poster, and will be framing it and hanging it on a wall at home, because the insights are so timeless, and helpful in remembering the kinds of ‘rules’ to live by which help in leading a good life.
One of the 7 learnings that resonated most with me is the first one, Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind. I’ve heard similar advice from Malcolm Gladwell, and as someone not shy of having an opinion, I think it is critically important to get better at this.
Which brings me to a significant thing I have changed my mind on recently – euthanasia. Once upon a time I was a stringent supporter of a person’s right to choose when they die. A right I thought was particularly important in allowing people the dignity and self-determination to die in cases of terminal and degenerative illness.
But now, I can’t support euthanasia, at least not in the Australia I live in today. In this Australia, old age, disability and illness are painted as negative experiences to be avoided at all costs. To age is to degenerate. To rely on the help of others to do the very basic tasks a human being needs to do daily like eat, wash, use the toilet and sleep is something to feel shame for. We pity people who need the help of others, and stigmatise ageing. To grow older is to become undesirable, not useful, and a drain on society.
The Australian government talks about the ageing population as one of the greatest threats for our economy. If you’re not a ‘lifter’ (i.e. a working tax-payer), you’re a ‘leaner’ – and not only taking resources away from the hard working, but actually putting the future of the nation at risk.
And herein lies the problem for me. In a society which is actively fearful of ageing, disability and illness, where wellness, wealth and youth are celebrated above all else, we turn normal, human experiences into undesirable states of being.
In this framework, I worry that if the option became widely available for people to opt for euthanasia, they may end up doing so because the society they are living in sees them as undesirable burdens on their families, support networks and carers. I see this as extremely dangerous, and as distorting free choice.
I also believe caring for people is an important part of human experience. I never want to be part of a society where someone has chosen to end their life because they don’t want to be a burden on their family, carers or society. I don’t want an Australia where the sentiment could become, “If I was them, I would choose to euthanise myself rather than go on living with that pain [etc].”
And all of that has led me to change my mind on euthanasia and feel that erring on the side of caution is ultimately more reflective of the humanity I wish to live by.
Of course, this is not a perfect decision, and I might change my mind again.