Some thoughts on death

Why do so many people fear death? Death is only the end of life. We don't fear going to sleep; death is effectively very like sleep, but a sleep from which we will not awake.

Written 2009/01/02, modified 2016/03/10
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com

The common human fear of death is irrational. It is perfectly understandable to fear the process of dying; it can be, and often is, long, unpleasant and painful; although it doesn't need to be.

To the individual who dies, death is the loosing of consciousness. Sleep is also the loosing of consciousness, but it is temporary. Why should we fear the one and not the other? We were, in a sense, dead before we were born; what reason do we have to fear re-entering that state?


My intention

My father suffered several strokes before he went into a nursing home. The man who went into the nursing home was not the same man that I knew as my father; he was mentally crippled.

I have no intention of going into a nursing home. If I am unable to look after myself I would rather end my life than be a burden on other people and lose my self respect.

An unwillingness to die is a different matter; it is perfectly reasonable that a person who loves life, or has a strong reason to want to live (such as having children to raise or an important project to complete) will be unwilling to die; but an unwillingness to die is very different from a fear of death. On the other hand, I wonder how many elderly people would be quite happy to die? I suspect that to many death would be a welcome end to a tedious, long, slow decline in health, independence and self-respect.

In our culture it is considered 'not the right thing to do' to end your own life. Why should that be so? If your life has become a burden to you – and to others – why should you not be able to end it?

"The only part of the conduct of any one, for which [a citizen] is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign."
     John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty

It is the sheepish nature of people – the tendency to not do anything that others rarely, if ever, do – that makes us all 'live until we die'. We choose what we do in life, we should be able, if we wish, to choose the manner and timing of our deaths. Instead, most of us just go on living, with our health declining and, quite probably, our mental acuity decreasing, when we might make a conscious decision to end our life when it suited us.

The people who are left behind may suffer from a death, obviously. The loss of a spouse, a sibling, mother, father, son or daughter can be devastating; that is another story. On this page I am thinking about one's own death, and the unnecessary and baseless fear of that death.

I wonder whether the fear of death is mostly confined to the people of those cultures that were based on Judaism, Christianity and Islam; the religions that brought the world the sick and intentionally terrifying concept of eternal torture in Hell? Do Hindus and Buddhists fear death? I don't know.

At this point I probably should say that I do not fear death. This must be at least partly due to the fact that I am thoroughly convinced that the God of the Bible does not exist and that the theory that we all have an immortal soul is quite incredible (in the true sense of the word) and has been all but disproven by modern science. The Bible, with what it claims to tell us about the Christian God, has to be about the most unconvincing, irrational, and inconsistent collection of fantasies and folk tales known to Man (with the possible exception of the Koran).

For those who have managed to avoid or escape the religion delusion, there is nothing to fear in death.