David Young is one of Hong Kong’s thinking elites. He is a philosopher, a sceptic, an atheist, and a vociferous critic of all things pseudo-science (pronounced ‘bullshit’). He has also been kind enough to spend his time giving me the benefit of his experience when I had mentioned that I was considering starting a podcast – his advice was more or less ‘don’t do it’
Like everyone else in Hong Kong’s philosophical community I was saddened to hear that David had been diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease – a shitty, shitty disease that is has but one outcome: death. While some ALS sufferers survive 10 years past diagnosis, David’s ALS will likely end his life in the next 12 months.
I’ve said many times before that we, in the West, have forgotten how to die. We struggle to talk to those who are terminally ill. We don’t know what to say. We fetishise longevity, craving longer and longer lives. Maybe it’s a deep seated belief that if we openly embrace our mortality, that death will come for us sooner. What has impressed me so much about David’s decision to openly confront his own mortality, to discuss his illness and impending death, is that he has seemingly managed to avoid this: he hasn’t forgotten how to die.
Recently, David appeared on the ‘Beyond the Pale’ podcast, where he discussed his illness, his diagnosis, its progression and his thoughts about death. The conversation was unsurprisingly both inspirational and thought-provoking. At the end of it, I had remarked to a friend that that one subject he didn’t touch on, was the subject of assisted dying. It’s a REALLY tricky subject to bring up with someone who is terminally ill. With anyone else, I wouldn’t have even considered bringing it up – but knowing that David talks about these profound topics like you or I would discuss the weather, pollution or politics – the people whom I had asked, who know David, had assured me that he wouldn’t take any offence.
As a devout atheist, I thank almighty God that David has in fact decided to give a talk on precisely this subject. I’m off the hook. So next week, at Hong Kong’s long-running Philosophy Cafe, the other attendees and I will get the benefit of David’s perspective on assisted dying.
Do we have a right to die at the time and in the manner of our own choosing?
The libertarian in me knows there is but one answer: yes. And the same libertarian in me has a follow-up question: What the fuck does it have to do with you what I decide to do with my own body?
But the starting point for a libertarian is different. A libertarian starts with the assumption that I have the right to do whatever I please, as long as I’m not violating the rights of others. The liberal standpoint is the reverse, namely that we have no rights beyond those granted by our rulers, guardians and masters.
I for one reject the notion that the government, or any other body, has the right to interfere with the wishes of a competent patient to die.