The Right To Die

We will discuss assisted suicide and read about two specific cases in preparation for further discussion. You will learn related vocabulary on this topic, and review the subjunctive mood.

Pre-Reading Questions

  1. What is “quality of life”? What do you need for quality of life?
  2. What reasons do terminally ill patients have for wanting to die early?
  3. Why might a terminally ill patient leave Canada or the UK and go to Switzerland to die?
  4. Have you ever had to put a pet down*? If yes, how did you make your decision to do this?

*put down: to use a lethal injection to end an animal’s life, usually due to suffering

Vocabulary Preview

  • degenerative: causing gradual weakness or loss of use
  • life sentence: a diagnosis that means you are going to die (used in law to refer to capital punishment)
  • assisted suicide: taking one’s own life with the help of another person
  • terminally ill: having an illness that will lead to death
  • foreigner: a person from a different country
  • qualify: to be eligible to take part in or to receive something
  • conductor: a person who leads an orchestra
  • diagnose: to determine what illness one has
  • legality: a requirement or indication related to a formal law
  • pressure: to convince a person to do something they may not want to do
  • dignity: the state of being worthy, a sense of honor
  • accompany: to go with someone or something

Practice these new vocabulary words here: The Right To Die

The Right To Die

  1. In April of 2013, a Canadian woman said good-bye to her friends and family and flew to Switzerland to die. The 72-year-old woman had been suffering from a degenerative disease. Susan Griffiths felt her terminal illness was “a life sentence”. Before she went to Zurich to die, Griffiths asked the Canadian government to change the laws about doctor-assisted suicide. Like many other terminally ill patients, Griffiths would have preferred to die at home.
  2. Why do terminally ill people often go to Switzerland to end their lives? There is an organization there that provides assisted suicide to foreigners. You don’t even have to be terminally ill to qualify for assisted suicide at this clinic. An English conductor proved this in 2009. Sir Edward Thomas Downes was almost blind and deaf, and he relied heavily on his wife to care for him. When his wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he decided to go with her to the clinic in Switzerland so they could die together.
  3. Some family members go with their dying loved ones to say their final good-byes at the clinic. Others worry they will face legal charges just by traveling with them. Doctors are concerned about legalities, too. Many don’t want assisted suicide to be legal. They fear that if assisted suicide is legalized, disabled or elderly people may be pressured to end their lives early.
  4. Is dying with dignity a human right? Jackie Meacock, a British citizen who suffered terribly from pain, reminded her daughter that people often put pets out of their misery: “If I were a dog, you would put me down. Why can’t I have that dignity?” Meacock’s daughter agreed with her mother and accompanied her to Switzerland.

Post Reading Questions

  1. Should doctors be allowed to help terminally ill patients die? Should they be expected to do this?
  2. Why is assisted suicide a crime in some countries but suicide is not?
  3. Dying is an expensive business. Is it wrong for clinics to profit from helping people end their own lives?

Grammar Review

Did you know that verbs have moods? The “subjunctive” mood expresses something imagined that could not be true.

“If I were a dog, you would put me down.”

Notice that we always use “were” instead of “was” in this type of untrue situation or wish.

Additional Resources