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Posts Tagged ‘death’

I was surfing the web aimlessly when I came across this sad news:

Swedish mountaineer and professional skier Fredrik Ericsson died Friday while trying to summit K2 in Pakistan, his friend David Schipper told CNN in a telephone interview.

The incident occurred between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. as Ericsson was attempting to become the first man to ski from the summit to base camp, said Schipper, who said he learned of the accident on the world’s second-tallest peak in a satellite call from fellow climber Fabrizio Zangrilli.

[…]

Ericsson, along with his climbing partners Trey Cook and Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, had begun the summit push between 1 a.m. and 1:30 a.m. in low-visibility weather.

After several hours of climbing, they approached the bottom of the bottleneck. At this point, Cook returned to Camp 4, leaving Kaltenbrunner and Ericsson to continue their ascent.

As Ericsson was attempting to fix ropes to the snow and ice along the route he “lost his purchase and was unable to arrest his fall,” Schipper said.

Ericsson’s body, resting at about 7,000 meters, will remain where it fell, Schipper said on Ericsson’s website.

“His parents have requested it remain in the mountains he loved,” he wrote. “Retrieval would be exceptionally dangerous.”

Such incidents are of course not uncommon — many climbers die similarly each year.  The comment thread to this news report was also fairly predictable. One user wrote: I never understood poeple that would do a suicidal activity then call it sport! Another was full of scathing sarcasm: At least he died for a cause. Oh thats right he didn’t!

But what really caught my eye was one particular comment that I post below. It was in response to the derisive “Oh that’s right he didn’t” comment, and it is the reason why I am writing this post. It expresses exactly what I feel about such activities and says all that’s needs to be said to those who don’t get it.

“He didn’t even die for a cause”…

Yes he did; he died doing what he loved. He died pushing himself to his personal limits. He was in better shape than all of you combined. He didn’t rant on web sites, he was living life to the fullest for… (God forbid), HIMSELF. How many of you will die for a “cause”?

Ericsson isn’t a martyr. He isn’t a hero. He is just a man who went ahead and pursued his particular passion. How would the world look like if everyone else did the same?

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The Atlantic has a fascinating — though not wholly sympathetic — article on Dignitas and its founder Ludwig Minelli.

I have written on Dignitas before. They believe that people have an absolute right to die on their own terms and they help some of those people (those suffering from a terminal disease) achieve it. There are all kinds of horror stories associated with botched suicide attempts — people who have been paralyzed for life, or those who suffered a extended painful death weeks later. Dignitas helps those who have decided to take their life do so with dignity.

Switzerland’s libertarian law on the issue certainly helps:

Assisted suicide is also legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, as well as in the American states of Oregon, Washington, and Montana. But in all those places, the practice is restricted to people with incurable diseases, involves extensive medical testing and consultation with physicians, and requires that applicants be permanent residents. By contrast, Switzerland’s penal code was designed such that, without fear of prosecution, you can hand someone a loaded pistol and watch as he blows his brains out in your living room. And there is no residency requirement. There are only two conditions: that you have no self-interest in the victim’s death, and that he be of sound mind when he pulls the trigger.

Minelli is passionate about the cause. He views himself as fighting for a fundamental human right, and he does not care who he offends in the process. His employees mostly agree.

“Minelli always tries to motivate people to make more of their lives,” he continued. “That’s why I work for him, his human approach.”

But Dignitas is concerned with not life but death—a fact Luley not only accepts, but promotes with enthusiasm. “Suicide is not bad,” he explained. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to end your life. Sometimes life is great, sometimes life is shit. I have the right to say that I’m pissed off with my life, and I want to end it.” Fine, I said, but why involve others in your self-destruction? Why not just sit in the garage with the engine running?

Luley smiled. Late-model cars won’t do the trick, he said. In the early 1970s, auto manufacturers began installing catalytic convertors that filter out as much as 99 percent of the carbon monoxide from exhaust fumes. You might cough, but you’re not likely to die. Other do-it-yourself methods can be even more problematic. Luley described some of the people who, having failed in their own suicide attempts, had contacted Dignitas to finish the job. “One lady jumped eight stories down to a paved parking lot. Now she is in a wheelchair. Then there was a man who shot himself in the face, but survived. Another leapt in front of a train and lost both his legs.” Dignitas exists to prevent these outcomes, to see to it that those wishing to kill themselves may do so without fear of pain or failure. The fact that most people lack legal access to a death like this is the group’s organizing principle. “Our goal is to make ourselves obsolete,” Luley said. “It should no longer be that one has to travel from his home country to Switzerland to end his life.”

Assisted suicide — suicide in general — carries a stigma today. (It didn’t two thousand years ago when it was normal for Athenians to drink hemlock when they viewed their life had not sufficient meaning left.) Minelli and his organization are fighting for the right to do with one’s life as one wishes, and end it when one wants. He is a brave man, and while not many share his ethical beliefs, I happen to do so completely.  To me, Dignitas represents freedom as few other things do.

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George Sodini’s blog

George Sodini, the gunman who murdered four people and wounded nine others in Philadelphia on Tuesday maintained a rambling online blog for the last many months. The blog has now been taken down, and I am not sure how long the copies of it that remain in various other news sites will survive, so I am posting the full contents here. It offers a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a sad, sexually frustrated but still remarkably lucid man who had obviously been planning this act for quite a while.

It is clear from the blog that Sodini saw himself as a ‘loser’ and one of the motivations for the act, which he successfully carried out, was because he felt this was a way to get the kind of attention that he would never be able to in real life. His last sentence reads “Death lives.” I cannot but help thinking of the similarities between Sodini’s motivations and that of the protagonist in this short story I wrote a long time ago.

Here’s Sodini’s blog in pdf.

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This is probably familiar to anyone who has been following the civil war — now declared over by the government — in Sri Lanka, but I missed it till today. It is an oped by Lasantha Wickramatunge, former editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper of Sri Lanka. It was published posthumously and is a chilling piece of writing — not just because it eloquently defends civil liberties — but because Wikramatunge was murdered in January this year, exactly as he predicted in the linked essay. Do read it if you haven’t already.

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It is a controversial, much maligned organization. Lots of people find their work loathsome. What they do is illegal in almost every other country of the world.

Dignitas. It’s a beautiful name. And they do beautiful work. To me, they represent freedom as few other things do. Imagine a world where organizations like Dignitas aren’t an exception but a common sight in every major city. A world where the concept has been taken even further: anyone capable of coherently expressing their wish can end their life with dignity at the time of their choice for any reason whatsoever.

Such a day is far away. So, till then, let us celebrate the existence of a group of professionals who care enough about others that they help them exercise their most fundamental right; one that society has always denied them.

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From the CNN report:

The parents of a 23-year-old rugby player who committed suicide after a training accident left him paralyzed say the decision gave him “welcome relief.”

Daniel James died in a Swiss clinic on September 12, according to a local authority in central England.

But the Worcestershire Coroner Service does not say how James — who was paralyzed from the chest down — got to Switzerland.

British law bars anyone from cooperating with a suicide attempt. Local police say they are investigating.

I do not know if this couple helped their son get to Switzerland. If they did, it was possibly the most beautiful and most painful act of their lives. Of course, in that case, the law will get to them eventually. There will be a trial and possibly a conviction. Those who believe in imposing their value judgments on others will be relieved. Bloggers like me will be mad and frustrated. But eventually the world will return to normal.

[Addendum]:

I believe that suicide is one of the most fundamental rights of a human being. That is not to say I approve or disprove of it. It simply means that I view a person’s life and the decision to exit from it as his most inalienable freedom, one that the government cannot deprive him of in any circumstance whatsoever.

And on a more personal note, it is my preferred (and most likely) mode of exit. In particular, I do not view suicide as an irrational act, though it certainly is one to be taken after great consideration. As for the moment I choose to go, it will be a purely personal decision, involving only myself and perhaps the person closest to me. Those in high office who think they can stop me, good luck.

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Brendan Loy fears that years in the future, we will be referring to Hurricane Ike as “The Great Galveston Hurricane of 2008.” I think he is right.

This picture was taken many hours before Ike was scheduled to make landfall. The city of Galveston was already under 3 feet of water, despite not having experience any winds or rains yet. Ike is a monster, the likes of which have not been seen in 50 years.

As I write this, Ike is still out at sea. It will hit Galveston island in a few hours. The expected storm surge is over 3 metres.

The residents were warned days in advance that Ike is a freak storm. The exact language used was “Persons not heeding evacuation orders in single-family one or two-storey homes will face certain death.”

There is no exaggeration in that warning. It is a fact that the entire Galveston island will have experienced surges of upto 22 feet of water by this time tomorrow and winds upward of 110 miles an hour. Unless you live in the third storey of a building or higher, you are going to die, plain and simple.  Even if you do, and your house is not blown away or crushed by a tree, you will certainly be without food, water or electricity from outside for weeks. Not all the people who have refused to evacuate from Galveston island are stupid. Some of them are indeed extremely well-prepared and fully aware of the risks.

But I also fear that many are not. There are — by some accounts — 24,000 people on the island tonight. They have refused mandatory evacuation orders and decided to ride out the storm. I believe they have a right to do that. But I also hope they all sleep well tonight, for some of them will die before the sun is out tomorrow.

[Update]: It now appears that the storm surge was 10-15 feet, not 22 feet as predicted. So, the devastation and death toll will be much lower than I feared.

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