A beautiful death


A recent US documentary recounts the story of an Oregon couple who committed suicide together in April 2017. The couple, Charlie and Francie Emerick, had both been diagnosed with terminal illnesses. They felt that, after having been married and together for some sixty odd years, it was only fitting that they exit this world as a couple.

Talk of “fittingness” in the context of death draws our attention to a broader topic, namely, the aesthetics of death. Just as we seek beauty in life, so also do we seek beauty in death.

There is a certain beauty to ending the narrative arc of our lives with a “fitting” poetic flourish. And in the context of euthanasia, it seems that many cases are underpinned by a desire not just for a peaceful death, but a beautiful death.

In 2016, a 41-year-old Californian multi-media and performance artist, Betsy Davis, ended her life with lethal medication. Davis wanted her suicide to be a “final act” in her artistic career, and she organised an elaborate weekend of celebrations and performances before consuming the lethal dose on a canopy bed by a hillside.

I wonder if, in seeking a beautiful death, we should look the wisdom the ages, rather than following our own artistic intuitions. The 15th century Latin tract Ars Moriendi provides persons in extremis with guidance for a good death. It encourages readers to face death bravely, to avoid temptations to despair, impatience or pride, and to surround oneself with those loved ones who, in life, have brought joy to one’s soul.

I’m not sure that the authors of the text had assisted suicide in mind when they outlined the elements of the ars moriendi

XAVIER SYMONS
Deputy Editor
 




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