Dignity in death: the last essay by John L’Heureux

On death and dignity is the last essay written by John L’Heureux, author of several novels and poems, such as A Woman Run Mad, The Shrine at Altamira, The Miracle, and The Medici Boy. This essay was published by The New Yorker; a collection of his stories will be published in December.

And thus my suicide began. Three home visits by two doctors—my primary physician and my neurologist—officially established my decision to die with dignity. At each visit, my doctor emphasized that this decision could be cancelled at any moment, including the moment before I saw it through. I signed a formal document attesting to my decision, and it was co-signed and witnessed, according to the law. […]

Our reasoning: we arrived at our decision through a consieration of who we were together and how we loved and why. We had spent many years in religious life and, separately, we had reached the conclusion that we were responsible for our own lives, for the decisions we made, and for the custodianship of our own bodies. Our lives, finally, were in our own hands and the ultimate disposition of them was ours to make, if we could, if we were not victims of violence.

But what about God? I was, you say, planning to commit suicide and invoking California law as justification. But the state law came about through many lawsuits that were aimed at ending life with dignity, instead of prolonging meaningless suffering. The state acknowledged that. And ending pointless suffering is exactly what many scientists attempt to do in their research, and what doctors attempt to do with their palliative measures, and, I think, what the Catholic Church attempts to do with prayers for the sick. Suffering in itself is not a good. God is not a divine sadist who delights in the pain of His creatures. He is the God of charity and justice. He is the God of compassion and mercy. If I find in myself the need for compassion, to allay suffering and to comfort the living, I feel sure that God has at least as much compassion as I do.


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