One of the legends in the climbing community, Dean Potter, died base jumping in Yosemite National Park on May 16th. His death affected me on some profound level. On one hand I felt remorse: he was one of the brightest lights in the climbing community and I grew up watching some of his incredible stunts.
On the other hand, I felt his death was strangely inspiring – a fitting culmination of his incredible journey. Potter’s life was spent pioneering new ways to explore remote terrain, climb it, and fall back down to do it again. In an almost literal interpretation of The Myth of Sisyphus, Potter found meaning in pushing a boulder up a mountain, watching it fall back down, and repeating the whole thing over and over again. One by one, he found ways to remove safety ropes, to be free of all the training wheels, right up until his death. He fought against all of the limitations that the world places on us, socially and physically. In the end, the world got the better of him, just like everyone else. But he died doing what he wanted to do; he died free.
I think of Dean and all of the other extreme athletes (Alex Honnold, Reinhold Messner, to name some of my favourites) when I think of the assisted-suicide and euthanasia debates. To me there is no debate at all. We all hold our own mortality in our own hands. Whether you risk your life climbing massive vertical walls, jumping out of airplanes, or just walking down the street on your way to get a Grande Blonde, it is your life to risk. The absurdity of the human condition is up to every individual to interpret, and everyone should have the option of ending it all when they see fit.
Of course, this is all very idyllic. I’m a romantic Rachit; guilty as charged. Maybe the most interesting debates in euthanasia arise when the will of the individual is not so clear. What happens if the person is in a coma or is in some other manner unable to communicate? Who gets to decide what happens? How do you balance the minute, but ever-present, sliver of hope for improvement with the drain on the medical system that can use the resources to help other people? Would you kill me if I asked you to, even though the pain I feel may only be temporary?
Pulpy, pulpy questions.