In the past week or so, two notably admirable (and admired) men have made news by either dying (Bob Simon, of 60 Minutes) or, in the case of Oliver Sacks, announcing that he has terminal cancer and is not long for this world. I felt bad for both of them, but not that bad.

Before you write me off as a heartless troll, hear me out. I think we Americans have internalized our wars to the point where we consider ourselves to be at war with death itself. The fact that we keep marching into unwinnable wars doesn't seem to have changed the way we think. Enemies? Blow em up! Cancer? Nuke it! Mortality? Not me.

Yes, you. And me. Can we stop acting as if not dying is an option? Listen carefully, and you'll hear people say things like, "If I die, I want it to be painless." If? There is no "if" about it.

So, why all the fuss about euthanasia? Someone wants to die. Whose business is it, other than theirs? Why should a person who is of sound mind be legally permitted to enter into lifelong debt, sign up for the Marines, take a job on a fishing boat (very dangerous), marry an abusive man with bad tattoos and a gambling problem ... but not decide that she doesn't want to suffer any longer? This kind of inanity only makes sense if we assume that death is to be avoided at all costs.

My cousin, who is three or four years old, knows better. The other day, he was talking to my aunt about how he was "sleepy dead" before he was born. We all were, and as far as I can tell, none of us have any traumatic memories of how horrible it was before we were alive. Well, that's how it's gonna be after we're alive, so let's all chill out about this one.

Anyway, Bob Simon was 73 and Oliver Sacks is a decade older. Both men have lived lives of adventure, scholarship, and success. When Simon died, I saw a headline that read, "60 Minutes Host Loses Life in Car Crash." He didn't lose his life. He'd already lived 73 years of it.

You can't lose the life you've already lived—especially if you've lived it well. 

About the Author

Christopher Ryan

Christopher Ryan, Ph.D., is the co-author of Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality.

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