Choosing Death

Beyond a certain stage of dementia, the person we knew is gone. If the person did not want to live in that condition, what is the point of maintaining the body?

PRINCETON – “I will take my life today around noon. It is time.”

With these words, posted online, Gillian Bennett, an 85-year-old New Zealander living in Canada, began her explanation of her decision to end her life. Bennett had known for three years that she was suffering from dementia. By August, the dementia had progressed to the point at which, as she put it: “I have nearly lost me.”

“I want out,” Bennett wrote, “before the day when I can no longer assess my situation, or take action to bring my life to an end.” Her husband, Jonathan Bennett, a retired philosophy professor, and her children supported her decision, but she refused to allow them to assist her suicide in any way, as doing so would have exposed them to the risk of a 14-year prison sentence. She therefore had to take the final steps while she was still competent to do so.

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