Death as a bestseller
by Jenny Ousbey
The media has worked itself up into a flurry of excitement over Harry Potter star Emma Watson. A few days ago she was papped clutching the best-selling self help book Chicken Soup for the Soul after a gym workout in America. Although most were probably focusing in on her toned stomach, the rest used it as an excuse to underline the prolific abundance of ‘positive-thinking’ literature. As one article put it, 130 million books and still counting.
But there is a gap in the market yet to be exploited by those extolling the virtues of openness and self-love. That is, there is no best-seller – as far as I know - on what makes a good death. Specifically how people would like their death to occur and what tools they need to acquire to talk about the event in a constructive way with friends and relatives. Granted there are publications (mainly online) which discuss the process of dying, but there is little in the way of popular literature which guides us into deciding when it is acceptable to talk about our own death and when we want it to happen.
It is difficult to establish when it is culturally, medically or ethically acceptable to talk about not wanting to live anymore. According to Dying Matters, starting the conversation with loved ones is the hardest thing to do – but once the ice has been broken many report feeling relieved that the subject has been aired.
For months the Commission on Assisted Dying has been hearing evidence from a wide range of people. As a matter of course talk of assisted dying forces us to tackle how, why and when people want to die – whether that be a case of not wanting to be resuscitated or travelling to a foreign country to take lethal drugs. Assisted dying is quite clearly a complex and often controversial subject, and yet the nature of it throws up issues which are pertinent for everybody.
I argue it is therefore possible for both sides of the assisted death debate to view the Commission’s work in a positive light, in that hearing evidence on when assisted death should or shouldn’t take place forces a discussion on death in general. So if the Commission can establish if or when someone can request their life to end – then their conclusions may also inform when the rest of us can start talking about death.
The author Lionel Shriver recently expressed delight in discovering one of the last social taboos in her blockbuster novel We Need to Talk About Kevin – in which a mother finds it difficult to love her son. Another taboo may well be the one that says we must remain silent about when we want our lives to end. Time will tell whether this one will be broken as well.