(The following excerpt from Is Suicide Ever “Rational”? by Robin Marantz Henig recently appeared on psychologytoday.com. To view it in its entirety click on the link below.)
I always thought the British group known as SOARS chose a courageous name: the acronym stands for the Society for Old Age Rational Suicide. The idea behind SOARS is that for some people in some situations, just being old can be reason enough to end their lives.
Last week, an 89-year-old woman who’s a member of SOARS went from her home in Sussex, England, to the clinic in Switzerland run by the group Dignitas, where she could receive a lethal dose of barbiturates and take them with a beloved niece sitting next to her, holding her hand as she died.
Unfortunately, some of the press reports emphasize that Anne was annoyed by modern life and the interwebs, making her sound like little more than a cranky old lady. “Teacher died at Dignitas because she couldn’t bear modern life,” reads the headline in a report of her suicide at the Mirror Online.
A report in The Independent had a slightly less provocative headline than the Mirror’s in its story of Anne’s death. It emphasized the reasoning that led Anne, a retired art teacher and Royal Navy engineer, to decide that her life had run its course: In her application to Dignitas she reportedly described her life as “full, with so many adventures and tremendous independence”, but had recently found her strength and health fading and feared the prospect of a prolonged period in hospital or a nursing home. . . .
The thing is, it might not be so crazy to think that if you’re 89 years old, basically healthy, and tired of living, today is as good a day as any to die, since the alternative is to risk years of decline and humiliation and then to die anyway.
The truth is, I would like to be as strong as Anne if I reached a point where the only joy I had in life was feeding the birds in my garden, and where the only thing ahead of me was inevitable decline. I would like to think I could mount enough courage to bow out before things got too terrible for me or for my husband and daughters, who would have to watch me suffer and gradually disappear, possibly taking care of me in my dotage in ways that would diminish their joy in their own lives, and would color their feelings about me. Anne had never married and had only her niece to hold her hand, so maybe that’s part of why she felt so ready to go. But in a way, maybe those of us with families are the ones whose old-age suicides might be truly “rational,” leading us to bow out for the peace of mind of the people we leave behind.