A matter of life and death, again and again – Sydney Morning Herald

Posted: July 12, 2021 at 8:04 am

FICTIONShould We Stay or Should We GoLionel ShriverBorough Books, $29.99

Is life, no matter its quality, sacrosanct? In 2018, Aurelia Brouwers, a 29-year-old girl, caused controversy by ending her life legally in the Netherlands. Her case was anomalous: she did not suffer from a terminal illness, rather struggled with a history of mental illnesses, suicide attempts, self-harm and psychosis.

Assisted-dying remains a fiercely contested area in global euthanasia laws, belonging to the interdisciplinary branch of ethical discourse known as bioethics, which debates the value of human life. With the advances in modern medical knowledge, the global average life expectancy has increased to 72.6 years, up from 65.3 in 1990, as estimated by the United Nations.

Lionel Shriver confronts the issue of assisted-dying in her latest novel.Credit:Edwina Pickles

And the transhuman movement, which advocates the research and development of human-enhancement technologies, theorises that near-future breakthroughs will extend human lifespans indefinitely.

In Should We Stay or Should We Go, Lionel Shriver, best known for We Need to Talk about Kevin, confronts the issue of assisted-dying and euthanasia when her protagonists Kay and Cyril Wilkinson propose that we get to 80 and then commit suicide. They are not suffering unbearably when they make the decision; in fact, theyre in their mid-50s, and in excellent health. Their reasoning is simple: humans were never meant to live beyond 80, and they ought to die on their own terms, before they succumb to the entropy of their biological clocks on borrowed time.

Credit:

The novels departure point is March 29, 2020 the day of Kays 80th birthday. After the giddy, mind-racing rush to capitalise on time remaining, the world has unexpectedly changed. Brexit reignited Cyrils fierce anti-leave sentiment, and coronavirus turned Britain into a ghost land. As a result, Kay and Cyril appraise the lethal pills before them and begin to soliloquise about death in a corollary of Hamlets to be, or not to be. Problem is that as octogenarians, they remain in good health, not the mindless or stupefied walking corpses they feared they would become.

From here, Shriver disrupts the narrative with multiple scenarios that imagine what Kay and Cyril do next. Using this non-linear structure, Shriver creates a novelistic thought experiment, a network of possibilities, with each chapter reverting in time to choose a different path.

Kay goes ahead, Cyril backs out, and soon has a stroke that imprisons him inside his own body. Advances in medicine produce a magic pill that reverses ageing and allows people to live at optimal youth indefinitely. Their children, aghast that their parents planned suicide, and had squandered their inheritance, subject them to a cruel assisted-living home. Kay succumbs to dementia, and her family grieves as if shes already dead.

Read the original:
A matter of life and death, again and again - Sydney Morning Herald

Related Post