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Finitude, choice and the right to die: age and the completed life

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 October 2020

Chris Gilleard*
Division of Psychiatry, UCL Faculty of Brain Sciences, London, UK


This paper explores the concept of the completed life outlined in recent writing in the Netherlands on euthanasia and assisted suicide and its implications for ageing studies. Central to this theme is the basic right of people to self-determine the length of their later life, linked with the subsidiary right to assistance in achieving such self-determination. Although the notion of weariness with life has a long history, the recent advocacy of a self-limited life seems shaped by the new social movements presaged upon individual rights together with what might be called a distinctly third-age habitus, giving centre stage to autonomy over the nature and extent of a desired later life, including choice over the manner and timing of a person's ending. In exploring this concept, consideration is given to the notion of a ‘right to die’, ‘rational suicide’ and the inclusion of death as a lifestyle choice. While reservations are noted over the unequivocal good attached to such self-determination, including the limits to freedom imposed by the duty to avoid hurt to society, the article concludes by seeing the notion of a completed life as a challenge to traditional ideas about later life.

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Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

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