A columnist for the liberal Guardian newspaper says she has decided to reject suicide after learning that she will suffer from an incurable neurological disease, calling self-euthanasia “a fantasy.”
“The case for carrying on can’t be argued,” writes Charlotte Raven in her most recent column. “Suicide is rhetoric. Life is life.”
Raven wrote the column following her discovery that she has the genes for Huntington’s disease, which causes a progressive breakdown of brain function, usually beginning in middle age. Raven is 40 years old.
Huntington’s causes a progressive breakdown in cognitive functions, emotional instability, irrational bursts of rage, and uncontrollable body movements. Sufferers usually die within twenty years of the onset of the disease. While symptoms can be treated, no cure yet exists.
Raven writes that upon learning she had the Huntington’s gene, “my first suicidal thought was a kind of epiphany – like Batman figuring out his escape from the Joker’s death trap.”
She recounts that she considered suicide on the premise that “without autonomy and the capacity for self-determination, life is meaningless,” and “dependency is degrading.”
“Suffering is pointless,” she said she thought at the time. “The religionists’ belief that it is spiritually instructive, and therefore an essential part of life, is dangerous and reactionary.”
Although Raven regards herself as a feminist and liberal, she changed her plans to commit suicide after visiting Barranquitas, Venezuela, where an estimated fifty percent of the population has the Huntington’s gene. There she realized that, despite their illness, sufferers of the disease retain their fundamental dignity as human beings, capable of loving and being loved.
“I had never thought of suicide as violent or vile, and no wonder our preferred methods are designed to obscure this painful reality,” she writes. “Suicide consumers have been sold a chimera of a ‘peaceful’ end.”
“The suppression of our suffocation responses has made it possible for us to think of suicide as an idea rather than a physical process. I now see that suicide isn’t a modest proposal but a very immodest one.”
Although she was at first taken aback by the case of a woman in Barranquitas who has continued to have children despite her Huntington’s disease, she states that “I no longer feel she is irresponsible to refuse sterilization.”
Raven says that after her trip to the Venezuelan village, “I felt worthy of being cherished and knew I’d do whatever it took to survive.”