Distinguished conductor Sir Edward Downes and his wife Joan died last Friday at the Swiss right-to-die centre, Dignitas. She was suffering from terminal cancer. He was not dying, but was losing his sight and hearing.
I have admired Sir Edward’s work from a distance, acquainted only with a number of his recordings. He had a special interest in Russian music, and I have particularly relished his championship of the cheerfully and unprogressively tuneful Rheinhold Gliere.
I don’t have anything particularly profound to say about this latest instance of assisted suicide, but I do think it’s both sad and alarming.
It’s sad that a couple, only one of whom is dying, cannot live without one another. It’s sad that when a man can no longer give himself to his life’s work in music he considers that life itself is not worth living.
It’s alarming not least because assisted suicide raises all kinds of spectres of manipulation and exploitation of vulnerable people. How much further down the line is a situation in which people with failing health feel under pressure to put an end to it all not because they think that their life is not worth living but because they think that other people do? And all this becomes easier and seemingly more civilised when done with the help of an organisation that purports to be bestow ‘dignity’ on the tragic proceedings.
How telling is the comment of their two children:- “Our parents had no religious beliefs and there will be no funeral.” Having no God to love and serve, Sir Edward Downes was, I suppose, in love with his work. And when he could no longer work, he found life intolerable. He was, of course, also deeply in love with his wife, and he chose to die with her rather than exist without her. In each case, he loved what had been created rather than the Creator. What he didn’t care to reckon with was that there is One who gives help to the helpless, and hope to the hopeless. And this is the One before whom we must all appear. As Hebrews 9:27 soberly reminds us, ‘man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.’