Just what is it that makes life worth living, anyway? Is there a universal, one-size-fits-all answer, or is the answer situational, dependent upon the circumstances in which we each find ourselves?
And what might that answer be? Is it happiness? Good health? Sex? Wealth? Perhaps the ultimate aphrodisiac, power? Or some combination of these?
The existentialists among us might claim the answer is personal fulfilment, harmony with the world around us, inner peace. Alone though we are, they might say, we are nevertheless connected to others, but on our own terms.
The religious among us might declare life’s significance arises from a meaningful relationship with one’s creator, in whatever form that creator might be rendered. At this point in time, however, they seem unable to reconcile their competing visions with everyone else’s.
The afflicted and dispossessed peoples of the world might proclaim that life, being an endless procession of hunger, thirst, and terror, is not worth living at all. And who is any of us, never having experienced their realities, to disagree?
But let us suppose, cheerfully, that everyone we know has found ample reason to live, to carry on, to survive. In the face, sometimes, of personal tragedy, severe illness, serious setbacks of whatever ilk, they have persevered, even prospered, and gladly proclaim life to be the greatest gift of all. They are, from all appearances, joyful, optimistic, and strong.
I recognize myself among this happy crew. Wanting for none of the necessities of life, surrounded by family who love me, blessed with friends who are supportive and caring, I rise each day with a positive outlook, sure this blissful state will continue for years to come. To state the obvious, life is to be lived.
So what do I make of the current debate swirling around us about a person’s right to an assisted death when the time comes? How do I square my belief in the meaning of life with a possible wish to end that life at some point? Are these two concepts even compatible?
For me, it comes down to a fundamental, primal instinct that life exists beyond this earthly planet we inhabit. The vast universe in which we float is, itself, alive—a pulsating burst of energy, ever-expanding, interminably large. And an infinitely small fragment of that energy, in whatever form it manifests itself, is what powers life in me. It is my life-source. Some, more religious than I, might call it a soul.
So when my time is up, as surely it will be someday, I take it as an article of faith that my spark of life will rejoin the universe from which it sprang—still alive, still burning, but in a vastly different form.
Comforted by this belief, I do not fear death’s inevitability. I do, however, harbour apprehensions about the manner in which that death might transpire. Having been blessed, so far, to live a life worth living, I have no wish to spend whatever number of months or years in a diminished state, waiting helplessly for my life-source to reattach itself to that whence it came.
Perhaps I shall die suddenly one fine day. Here one moment, gone in the next instant, no assistance required. Still alive in the universe, to be sure, but departed from this realm. I’d be happy about that—but not too soon, of course.
Lingering on, however, past the stage where my mortal coil can function properly, holds no attraction. So I have come to the conclusion that I should be allowed and empowered to facilitate the escape of my spark of life from my failing body, and set it once again on its eternal journey in the universe.
The true meaning of life for me, it turns out, is the power, not to end it, but to release it from a failing, earthly body—freeing it to roam, as the poet, W. B. Yeats, once wrote, “…among a cloud of stars.”