Some thoughts on death

Why do so many people fear death? Death is only the end of life. We don't fear going to sleep; death is effectively very like sleep, but a sleep from which we will not wake.

One of the milestones in the development of an intelligent species must surely be when the individuals of that species realise and accept that they can choose the time of their own death and the method for bringing it about. The alternative, leaving one's death to 'natural causes', seems to me as absurd as it is common and widely accepted as normal.

We accept that our pets and domestic animals have a right to a humane and painless death, why do many try to withhold that right from their fellow humans?

Written 2009/01/02, last edited 2022/01/21
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©

The common human fear of death is irrational. It is perfectly understandable to fear the process of dying; it can be, and often is, long, humiliating, unpleasant and painful; although it doesn't need to be.

To the individual who dies, death is the loosing of consciousness. Sleep is also the loosing of consciousness, but it is temporary. Why should we fear the one and not the other? We were, in a sense, dead before we were born; what reason do we have to fear re-entering that state?


My intention

My father suffered several strokes before he went into a nursing home. The man who went into the nursing home was not the same man that I knew as my father; he was mentally crippled.

I have no intention of going into a nursing home. If I am unable to look after myself and contribute to the community in which I live I would rather end my life than be a burden on other people and loose my self respect.


The old person's friend

Pneumonia has been called the old person's friend because it can provide a relatively quick end to a long and tedious dying. But surely a truly quick and humane death would be preferable.
An unwillingness to die is a different matter; it is perfectly reasonable that a person who loves life, or has a strong reason to want to live (such as having children to raise or an important project to complete) will be unwilling to die; but an unwillingness to die is very different from a fear of death. On the other hand, I wonder how many elderly people would be quite happy to die? I suspect that to many death would be a welcome end to a tedious, long, slow decline in health, independence and self-respect.

In our culture to end your own life is often considered 'not the right thing to do'. Why should that be so? If your life has become a burden to you – and to others – why should you not be able to end it?

"The only part of the conduct of any one, for which [a citizen] is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign."
     John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty

Is it the sheepish nature of people – the tendency to not do anything that others rarely, if ever, do – that makes us all 'live until we die'? We choose what we do in life, we should be able, if we wish, to choose the manner and timing of our deaths. Instead, most of us just go on living, with our health declining and, quite probably, our mental acuity decreasing, when we might make a conscious decision to end our life when it suited us.

The people who are left behind may suffer from a death, obviously. The loss of a spouse, a sibling, mother, father, son or daughter can be devastating; that is another story. On this page I am thinking about one's own death, and the unnecessary and baseless fear of that death.

I wonder whether the fear of death is mostly confined to the people of those cultures that were based on Judaism, Christianity and Islam; the religions that brought the world the sick and intentionally terrifying concept of eternal torture in Hell? Do Hindus and Buddhists fear death? I don't know. (I do know that for Balinese Hindus funerals are an occasion for celebration.)

At this point I probably should say that I do not fear death. This must be at least partly due to the fact that I am thoroughly convinced that the God of the Bible does not exist and that the theory that we all have an immortal soul is quite incredible (in the true sense of the word) and has been all but disproven by modern science. The Bible, with what it claims to tell us about the Christian God, has to be about the most unconvincing, irrational, and inconsistent collection of fantasies and folk tales known to Man (with the possible exception of the Koran).

For those who have managed to avoid or escape the religion delusion, there is nothing to fear in death.

This section added 2019/06/24

Why might one want to die?
Or why might I decide I've had enough of life?

I've written more on this question in my page on Suicide as a Rational Decision.
I love the world and my family. In some ways I have been very disappointed in most of my fellow humans.

Climate change is damaging the world already, it will only get far worse in coming years, and there are many other insults to our shared environment. At the time of writing I am 73; I will not live to see the worst of the damage, but my children and grandchildren (everyones children and grandchildren) will have to live on a greatly damaged planet.

Yet many of my fellow humans are complicit in the destruction of the Earth that I love, and the great majority of the remainder are too apathetic to bother making an effort to stop the damage, or too selfish to want to try. As a single example, shortly before I wrote this section there was an election in Australia in which climate change was the greatest single issue, yet when it came to the day the majority of voters put their own selfish short-term interests before the health of the planet and voted for the party that most refuses to take environmental matters seriously.

Science has discovered how the Universe works, yet many people, including many in high positions of power ignore science and embrace superstition. Ignorance of science is widespread.

A significant number (not enough) of people are willing to do unpaid work for the improvement of their community, but those same people are usually unwilling to lift a finger for the future of the planet as a whole.

Another example of selfishness and the unwillingness to act for the greater good is the fact that only 3% of Australians donate blood. The process is no more than a minor inconvenience and takes about an hour, the blood (or plasma or platelets) may well save someone's life, yet only one person in 33 does it (many people for one reason or another can't donate blood, but the great majority can).

I have seen similar selfishness in my own community when many people opposed the construction of a local wind farm. The wind farm would be good for the community, the region, the state, the nation and the planet, yet many opposed it for selfish reasons such as they "didn't want to have to see nearby wind turbines" or occasionally hear them.

How can one respect such beings? Living among them is becoming an increasingly unattractive prospect.

One of the world's greatest problems is that there are too many people. They are overloading all the world's environmental resources. A decision of mine could reduce that load on the planet.

My health is gradually declining, I am often in some pain, in a number of ways my body is not working as it should or used to. The time is approaching when death will be a more attractive option for me than continuing to live.

Why do we feel we should treat animals more humanely than our fellow humans?

We humans sometimes treat animals cruelly and criminally. I've written about this in a page on animal rights.

But the majority recognise animals should not be allowed to die long and painful deaths, they should be euthanised if they cannot be cured. A significant part of the work of veterinarians is providing animals with painless deaths. In fact allowing and animal to die slowly and in pain is considered a crime.

Yet a great many people want to deny a humane death to their fellow humans!

Related pages

Related external pages...

Exit International is a leading non-profit, voluntary assisted dying organisation that was founded in 1997 by Dr Philip Nitschke.

Related pages on this site...

A list of other pages on ethics on this site

Animal rights; it is generally accepted that animals should not suffer in dying, why should humans be treated worse than animals?

Euthanasia; some thoughts on euthanasia, assisted suicide and suicide

What would make a good memorial to a loved one who has died?

Suicide as a rational decision

Milestones in the development of human society. The recognition that one has a right to die when and how one chooses is a milestone that we are just beginning to reach.

Religion and other superstitions

The absurdity of the immortal soul concept

Contribution; if I could no longer contribute to the community in which I live I'm not at all sure that I would want to go on living.

Killing in peace and war; killing someone is normally a terrible crime. Are we to accept that killing on our government's say-so is justified?

About me; the end