Saturday, August 13, 2011

To Die with Dignity

It’s one o’clock on a Saturday afternoon and the hourly newscast is being broadcast on Galei Zahal, Israel’s Army Radio station. Except this time the broadcast is different. Veteran newscaster Adi Talmor is not the Shabbes goy reading the headlines. Instead, Talmor’s death is one of the headlines, especially due to the way he died.

After being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, Talmor, age 58, decided to end his life with the help of Swiss assisted-dying organization Dignitas. The decision came as a shock to Talmor’s colleagues. Since his death, Galei Zahal and sister radio station Galgalatz have reported the news in the words Talmor wrote especially for the occasion, and this afternoon there will be a program of his favorite music. Because his body was cremated in Switzerland, there will be no funeral and the only memorial ceremony that he asked for was a gathering on his beloved Tel Aviv boardwalk.

Talmor was a fixture on Army Radio for over thirty years, and for a decade he also served as the anchorman for an afternoon television newscast.

The slogan of Dignitas is: “To live with dignity - to die with dignity”. Legal in Switzerland, Dignitas is apparently one of the few organizations that offer such services to citizens of the world.

Talmor’s story reminded me of the excellent television film we recently saw, “You Don’t Know Jack”, with Al Pacino playing the role of doctor-assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian.

The question is does a human being have the right to choose when and how to die? Or is a doctor-assisted suicide a selfish act that takes no consideration of the feelings and suffering of those who will be left behind?

One could argue that the opposite is true. A patient who is terminally ill can prevent his loved ones from suffering years of financial and emotional burden. That sounds more a selfless act, than a selfish one.

One wonders whether Talmor’s decision to end his life with an assisted suicide will open a debate in Israeli society.  I, for one, would welcome such a debate.

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