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The suicide taboo

By Brett Walker - posted Friday, 19 December 2008

Craig Ewert died at a time of his own choosing.

Prior to his death the 59-year-old had suffered from Motor Neurone Disease (MND), an incurable affliction that saps the body of its physical powers, leaving the brain function intact. He had to pull the plug on his ventilator using his teeth, seconds after ingesting a lethal dose of barbiturates. He had to travel to Switzerland to perform the task.

His message to his children and to anyone who sees the film about the lead-up to his death (that caused so much controversy last month in the UK) is apparently quite simple: death fear and concerns of an after life experience somehow tarnished by killing oneself are quite pointless.


I am sad Craig and his family were touched by MND, not that he killed himself because of it.

His decision can not have been an easy one to make. Fifty-nine is way too young for anyone to die, but his physical condition and the prospect of continued physical deterioration, increased reliance on family and strangers for basic hygiene and nutritional needs, the attendant physical pain, the mental torture and the certainty that he was just putting off the inevitable moment, when his physical being would cease to function sufficiently to enable his lungs to operate, all led him to decide (no doubt with great sadness) that suicide was the best course.

Televising his death on British television (I have not watched it) has apparently created a storm of protest from so-called “pro-life” groups in the UK.

I don’t object to these groups existing, I just think their targeting of situations where individuals exercise their absolute right to determine their own exit as a means of promoting their own (let’s face it) moralistic world view tends to diminish the former (I think much worthier) issue.

I sincerely hope no member of those groups is ever affected by MND even if I suspect that being so affected might help change their world view.

I have seen a human being close to me slowly lose their physical power to MND. I have seen the life they led in a nursing home environment, the slow loss of not just physical faculty but dignity as well. I have seen their eyes full of pain and sadness and heard them cry out in anger about their lot in life. It doesn’t matter how you look at it, once you are dependent on others for physical comfort like toileting and washing you are not leading a life that is as dignified as it might once have been.


Don’t get me wrong. Nursing homes are in my experience full of wonderful, dedicated people. They’d have to be. Nursing homes are not holiday camps, they are places where many people go to prepare for death, voluntarily or otherwise.

The person I knew with MND did not choose suicide or at least never told me they would consider it an option. And a point came where it was no longer an option anyway. I imagine Craig saw that point coming in his life and decided to act now rather than lose control over his personal destiny. And for that I say good for him.

Suicide is not a joyous act of self-expression. It is an act of finality, often an act that leaves behind bewilderment and sadness in others.

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About the Author

Brett Walker is a lawyer and small business operator who spends most Sundays enjoying time with his wife and kids. He tried to read the Bible once but got caught up in the begat-fest at the front. He remains sceptical of anyone who would ask him to not be sceptical.

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