Death, what is it good for?
by David A Llewellyn
“I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.” Mark Twain
I spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about death. Just lately I have been thinking about the best way to kill someone. Come on, we’ve all done it. At least I have an excuse.*
As the saying goes, there are only two certainties in life and the other one is taxes.
Sometimes it seems like someone dies almost every year. Not celebrities, they die all the time. You just have to glance at a newspaper and another one has gone. And not refugees, either. They die in their thousands every day, poor bastards. What I mean is, every once in a while, someone close to me shuffles off this mortal coil and, as it turns out, there’s not a lot I can do about it.
“I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don’t want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen; I want to live on in my apartment.” Woody Allen
With maybe one or two exceptions, it’s going to happen to the lot of us. Yes, I know that life is for the living, and maybe we should just get on with it, but a few moment’s quiet contemplation once in a while might do us all a bit of good.
Here’s a few quick statistics for those who like their numbers, or context, as we should call it.
- 602,782 died in the UK in 2015; a rise of 5.7% compared with 2014.
- There were 518 homicides (murder, manslaughter and infanticide) in the year ending March 2015 in England and Wales, down 1% on 2014.
- There were 6,122 suicides in the UK in 2014, 120 fewer than in 2013
- In 2015, the total number of abortions remained fairly constant at 185,824, 0.7% higher than in 2014.
I didn’t want to mention terminations at first. Something at the back of my mind wants me to push them into another box, classified in a different way, but they are here for a reason.
The first figure isn’t surprising. We have a population of just over 64 million. The sudden rise is a concern. A virulent form of flu amongst the elderly, or so we are told.
I’m not sure how anxious I feel about the second. I thought the murder rate might be higher but, then again, we are three times more likely to be murdered than to win a million on the lottery. It could be you.
Suicides were less than I expected but I suspect there are many that are chalked down to misadventure or somesuch.
Suicide is man’s way of telling God, ‘You can’t fire me – I quit.’ Bill Maher
Though the figure for terminations seems high, this represents less than one in five pregnancies, and there are far more miscarriages every year.
With so many people dying every year, it seems we have become immune to death, if not on an individual basis then certainly as a nation. There are those rare moments of collective grief, and more regular outpourings of moral outrage, but on the whole we get by with a little help from our friends.
“Don’t send me flowers when I’m dead. If you like me, send them while I’m alive.” Brian Clough
I raise this now for two reasons. The first is that I have grown intrigued by the seemingly contradictory views that many of us, myself included, hold on death and dying. A recent poll shows 82% in favour of legislation that would allow for assisted suicide but there doesn’t seem to be the political will to follow this through. We are often told that the majority would see the return of capital punishment. On a personal note, I would be in favour of the first but against the second. There are many people cleverer than I who would have it the other way around. Perhaps neither of us is consistent in our beliefs.
I invite you all to take a short survey on attitudes to life, death and dying. It will only take a couple of minutes. It is both anonymous and slightly tongue in cheek but please answer honestly. It is there for my own curiosity. I will, of course, share the results in due course.
*If you are wondering why death is playing on my mind, I have recently written a novel – Indignitas. A serial killer comedy set in a euthanasia clinic.