Jean Davies was 86 when she died. She had devoted most of her life to the “right-to-die” movement and died both in a time and manner of her own choosing. Why, one must ask, did she starve herself to death?
Jean was surrounded by loving friends, including any number of doctors who could (and probably would) have found a way to give her some easy medications. She had been in the movement long enough, both as a leader of the London campaign organisation and as an international speaker on voluntary euthanasia, to know how to end her own life quickly and painlessly. But she chose starvation (or more accurately, refusing food and liquids, since refusing only food makes a difficult death longer and even more intolerable).
How we make choices is a very personal thing. Choosing apples over oranges is a matter of taste, of associations of pleasure and pain, associations based on which is good for us, or associations concerned with cost if one is much more expensive than the other. Maybe one was a gift. Associations, to a certain extent, are or can be brought under our conscious control.
In a famous experiment many years ago, psychologists recruited some volunteers and monitored them while they were given unpleasant and unwanted stimuli – in the experiment, this was achieved by subjecting them to a mildly unpleasant and distracting noise. Then in a second set, the experiment was the same except participants were told they could stop the noise at any time by pressing a button. In the second group, the participants were far less bothered by the noise. Many didn’t even press the button. Something that was under their control, their choice, was less of a trouble.
Jean knew that dying by refusing food and drink was likely to be horrible, even if you had enough medications to control most symptoms pretty well. But for her, there were different associations. She was a campaigner, and intended to die as she had lived, by making a statement. The statement Jean Davies was making, roughly paraphrased, was that was in the absence of proper legislation to allow voluntary euthanasia, the average person had little recourse except to starve themself to death, refusing food and liquids. She chose that, even as a mountaineer chooses a difficult ascent involving (for a mountaineer) cold and blisters and tests of endurance. Jean Davies was a hero in her own life story.