How do you want to die?

July 28, 2015 • 2:01 pm

I’m surprised nobody has thought of this before: collecting doctors’ wishes about how they would like to die. That collection was done by Tom Chivers, announced on Twi**er, as below, and published on BuzzFeed. Click on the screenshot below to go to the article, which is a lot better than usual pieces on that aggregator site:

Screen shot 2015-07-28 at 1.46.01 PMPerhaps unsurprisingly, the doctors’ opinions are fairly well in line with each other, and probably differ on average from those of “regular people”. Physicians wouldn’t usually opt for CPR or extension-of-life procedures in the case of terminal illnesses. The doctors have simply seen too many people have sad, painful deaths, or have their lives prolonged for no clear reason.

I know how I want to go: I want to die in my sleep at a ripe old age or, barring that, have a sudden heart attack that drops me instantly—the F. Scott Fitzgerald death.  I don’t want to know it’s coming, although others may disagree.

Readers are invited to describe their preferred method of demise below.

Addendum: the first reader below suggests his/her preferred death celebration or memorial. I’ve added mine as a comment, and you can add yours, too.

200 thoughts on “How do you want to die?

  1. I am with you. In my sleep, or very quick with little or no pain and suffering, and I don’t want to know about it.

    And don’t waste any time on tedious ceremonies, just get everyone who cares to get together and have a big blow out party. A tear or two while sharing tall tales of my awesomeness would be okay.

    1. I want my ashes to be mixed with fly food and, about two weeks before my “goodbye ceremony” (which will be a bibulous affair with lots of good food and wine), the food will be put in many vials with adult flies. As the next generation of larvae develops, and then hatches into adults, each fly will have part of my bodily substance in it. Then, at the ceremony, each attendee will be given a stoppered vial of flies. At a signal, everyone will open the vial and the flies, which have part of my body in them, will ascend toward the sky.

      1. When I go, I am going to let medical students chop me up and then get rid of whatever is left. No funeral. No cemetery. What is the purpose once I am an ex-parrot – er, ex-human.

        I assume most places make it easy to do this. In Illinois, it is the Anatomical Gift Association of Illinois.

      2. A unique, and completely appropriate for you, way of scattering your substance back into the web of life.

      3. Kind of like you, JAC, but taking an idea from Robert A. Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land”, I wish my body would be cooked and served up to my cats, so I could become part of them, and so I could continue to sustain them even just for awhile after I’m gone.

        I hope to die with all my affairs in order, all loose ends tied up, and therefore at peace. I hope to know when it’s coming, so I can finish tying up those loose ends or, better yet, spend some real time celebrating before I go. And, I hope to kvork, so I’m can feel empowered and in control at the very end, in contrast to so much of my life before that.

      4. Similar for me. HAVE A PARTY, folks (Free at last, free at last, hoppin’ Hank a’mighty, free at last!)! Lots of drink and good food.

        I have picked out some readings (Dawkins’ “we’re the lucky ones” passage from Unweaving the Rainbow and some others) and some music (“When I’m Dead and Gone” and “I’ll See You in my Dreams”, both from Joe Brown’s “The Ukulele Album” (required listening, in my opinion))).

        Scatter my ashes from an airplane over a prominent mountain.

    2. I have purchased a case of Lagavulin 16 Year Islay Malt Scotch to be opened and consumed at my wake. I don’t want a funeral… but people may insist, so, like my father said, I don’t want to be put in a casket, but rather, in my recliner, up on stage, facing the crowd, so I can see who attends.

      As for my body… My organs are all up for grabs, and the rest of me is available for whatever kind of scientific study/med-school tinkering someone wants to subject it to.

      But that is because the law frowns on viking funerals in the Gulf of Mexico.

      1. I’m going to have to try that scotch.

        And, wow. Didn’t think of a viking funeral. I’d be up for that. At night of course. All part of the festivities of the big blow-out beach party / wake.

        1. I’m thinking Nathan lives in Louisiana? Perhaps New Orleans area? Just imagine how that Viking thing could have burned, played out on the BP oil spill! Magnificent! Ecologically harmful, but magnificent all the same! Probably visible light years away in our galaxy, to say the least.

  2. The book Being Mortal by Atul Gawande deals with some of these issues, and I found it quite interesting.

    As for me, not that I have given it much thought, but I think I also opt for either in sleep (no debilitating disease or anything) or just very, very sudden – with the kids all being grown up and independent and everything.

  3. I have heart disease, with a very slow progression through good diet and plenty of exercise. I would wish for a sudden catastrophic heart attack with no warning, provided I am not driving a car so that I wouldn’t take anybody with me.

    Barring that, I’d like to go the way my parents went. They were in long, slow declines with cancer but then something else happened (a fall in one case, a bad cold in the other) and they went fast with only one or two rough days.

    The only thing I don’t want is to be in the hospital and having strangers come in to see if I am all right with Jesus. In that case, I would love to let them have it with both barrels, even if it hastens my end. That would be sweet.

    1. One thing that worries me is that, living in Louisiana, being put in a hospital for one thing or another could lead to dying by inches whether I want to or not. The religious crazies here already have a track record of not respecting living wills or ‘do not resuscitate’ directives. So if I were to die slowly while in a weakened (but conscious) state, I don’t think they’d hesitate to torment me with ‘Come to Jesus!’ vigils for as long as it takes.

  4. I would like to die knowing that it’s happening, with enough advance notice to prepare to be “in the moment” for the last act. This would ideally occur while I was mentally fit and in reasonable physical shape.

    I realize that I have no control over this, not being the suicidal type. And I know I would not remember any of it, as I would be dead.

  5. Since most people die alone in nursing homes of one old age thing or another, it would be nice to avoid that part. Prefer to have assisted death be legal and have the magic pill or injection standing by when I drop the flag. No CPR or tubes and respirators please. The legal documents/will are already done. Just make sure the joint/hospital you are in has a copy.

  6. This is a big deal for me right now. I just watched my wife of 26 years dies slowly and horribly from cancer. I fear that sort of end beyond anything else. One precious faculty after another stolen from you. Pain ramping up each day until nothing works and vast amounts of Morphine ect fail to even to take the edge off.

    We all talk a good game about what we would do faced with this, brave boasts about how we would brave it. Wildly different from what I saw. Unrelenting fear of death drives you to try treatments, begging for anything that promises relief or another day. Until you don’t want even that. Then you just beg. Clutching at your loved onee, the people that love you most.

    Not for me….. not that.

    1. Dear James, so sorry. My sister was the same, nearly 4 years ago. Diagnosed with oesophagal cancer the same week as the Hitch; died a week before he did. She suffered. As you say, not that for me.

    2. I am so sorry James. I sincerely hope that you will eventually find peace of mind and happiness again, though I know it won’t be easy or soon.

      1. But there is something funny about the idea of a flippant death wish. I’m a big fan of absurdity, even when it happens to me.

    3. So sorry – I’ve been on both sides of cancer both as someone with a family member with it and with myself going through it (still not sure if I’m cancer free yet)so I have a little taste of what you experienced but no where near as severe.

      I was lucky, and I sometimes feel like a fraud since my treatment was nothing compared to what others go through but I found the doctors were not quick to push unnecessary treatments and my hope is they will be very honest with me about my chances and what it will mean if I’m faced with a more dire outcome in the future.

    4. I am very sorry for your loss, James, and for what it put you through, not to mention what your wife went through. May your wish come true,that your exit from this life will be far less of a torture. And, may it be so far off, that you have time to heal and enjoy decades and decades,first.

    5. What struck me about some people close to me in their last days was how hard it was to die: even though they wanted it over, their bodies wouldn’t let them go easily. And with modern medicine, it can be worse.
      Quick and easy is what I want, and after the event I don’t think I shall care much what happens, whether it’s Jerry’s flies or Ken Pidcock’s bacteria.

  7. I have been through the cancer treatment mill four times, twice for myself, and twice for my mother, who is now on hospice. My mother in law is demented, lives with us, and is slowly fading away. Sudden cardiac death seems quite attractive to me.

  8. I’m reminded of Maxwell Smart’s line from multiple episodes of the 1960’s TV show, “Get Smart.” When captured by agents of CHAOS, they would ask him:”How would you like to die, Mr. Smart?” and he would reply along the lines of: “Preferably,in bed,from old age.”

    So, yes, please…


  9. There was a high profile court case here in New Zealand just a few weeks ago relative to a woman who was terminally ill and seeking a ruling that would let her choose when to die. She passed away of her illness before the ruling was made. However, since, a number of doctors have come forward and said they have hastened the deaths of terminal patients, at the end, because of the way these people are suffering. The ethics are complex. Inevitably.

    1. Yes. An anonymous survey carried out by the Medical Council showed most GPs – at least 80% iirc had done this. The time is clearly ripe for assisted dying legislation in NZ, but politically it’s as likely as same-sex marriage in Australia under PM Abbott.

    2. The ethics are complicated by the stupid law. A clear majority of the population here support voluntary euthanasia on request of the subject, just our politicians are too gutless to change the law.


  10. I’d like the chance to say goodbye before I go, and for the leaving to be peaceful, pain free, and not to be alone. I want to die at home – the thought of existing in an institution is far scarier than death.

    1. My fear is if I live long enough, there will be no one to say good bye too and worse, I will be at the mercy of uncaring support staff. I hope that I can take my own life painlessly if that becomes a reality.

      1. My father in law spent the last decade of his very long life bemoaning that there was no one left with whom he could share certain memories or ask certain questions. It was sad. A problem we could not fix.

      2. I don’t know. My father died septic in an ICU, which I witnessed. I found it more positively moving than I would have expected. Nurses as priests and morphine as sacrament.

        1. I was thinking more of living out the end in a nursing run by the government because private ones cost too much and I don’t expect to have a pension. The people caring for you are typically over worked and will leave you uncared for for hours if not days.

  11. easy. the physician-assisted-suicide protocol. massive overdose of barbiturates (seconal or nembutal)together with ample antiemetics. then you can do it pretty much on your own schedule when you decide the time is right and without pain or suffering.

  12. I don’t want to die face first into my morning porridge… I would like to be face first in a book preferably on it’s second reading.

    1. I bet you could make a funnier rhyme for your tombstone/death announcement if it involves porridge though.

      1. A GOREY END
        Her death was very horridge:
        Drowned in a bowl of porridge.

        He didn’t die on a forage,
        But face-down in a bowl of porage.

        ‘Twas not from over-dosing on borage
        He died, but suffocation in porage.

        He summoned up with serious mien his courage
        And plunged his face into the bowl of porage.

        He set out on his final voyage
        And foundered in a bowl of porage.

        1. Improved version of Number 3:

          On a Hippie

          High as a kite on psychedelic borage
          He sunk and stifled in a sea of porage

  13. My father passed away from an aortic aneurism at the age of 84, while walking to his volunteer job at SCORE.

    That is the best possible way to go I can imagine.

    1. Mine was discovered in time about 6 years ago at the age of 59 so I’ll have to think of another way. That was some operation.

      1. I trust that the surgery went well, and you did not have to endure and recover from impairment of your lower extremities.

  14. Death while copulating wouldn’t be bad. I have to agree with the doctors about the terminal condition life extension. If my quality of life gets to the point where I can’t do anything for myself and am suffering, it’s time to cash in the chips. After I’m gone, do with the carcass as you will.

    1. Not if the poor person your copulating with isn’t dead too. Ugh, who’d want to live with that memory?

      1. My thoughts exactly, Diana. I recall a cartoon from some decades ago (can’t recall the artist’s name, alas) in which an attractive young woman in a sheer nightie is standing outside a hotel room telling the police, “no, no, he didn’t die happy — we were arguing about the price when he had his heart attack.”
        More seriously, I was with my mother when she died, at age 70, last year. Her heart had already stopped twice that night, once before I arrived. After they brought her back the 2nd time, her doctor then told my stepdad & I that she only had hours left and that bringing her back again would just delay the inevitable and prolong her suffering and asked if we wanted them to still do everything to try to keep her alive as long as possible. My stepdad is a very conservative Catholic and I wasn’t sure how he’d answer but he did agree to let my mother go easy. A hard decision but the right one. She died just about two months shy of their 30th anniversary and he’ll turn 90 this October.

      2. But I would be dead…..I was being factious, of course. A quick passing in my sleep would be preferred.

  15. Just drop dead is good. I fainted a few weeks ago for the first time in my life & when I came to 30 seconds later, I was actually annoyed because the sleep seemed good & my stomach didn’t hurt while I was out.

      1. Yeah it’s the vagus nerve. What a jerk that thing is – if you get strong abdominal cramps that push on it, it slows your heart and drops your BP. It happened once before under similar circumstances but I was smart enough that time to lay low instead of wander around saying, “I feel dizzy”.

    1. When I was on the cusp of age 15, a high school chum claimed he could squeeze me in such a way that I would pass out. My inner, unrecognized-at-the-time skeptic, scoffed at that and, as a result, found myself lying on the tile floor, head hurting from apparently somewhat banging it on the floor, either wood or tile, after he had squeezed me around the chest. Of course, I was no less obligated than him to find a softer surface on which to hit my head. On the other hand, if he was reasonably sure of the result, he could have better advised me, or at least caught me. And I was not “a reckless youth.”

  16. I think most of us want to die peacefully, likely during sleep. In full control of time and place. But it ain’t gonna’ happen.

    Gawande’s book, mentioned above (read it if you haven’t), points out the reality of dying in an age when senescence is beginning to dominate. The picture is not pretty. Nor is the health care, since few docs want to become geriactric specialists. Gawande includes excellent end of life questions which if I’m not fortunate enough to die while asleep, I hope I have the good sense to answer as I slip from one stage to another.

    Me? if everything goes as planned, according to the card I carry, I’m then headed to the cadaver program of the UMN medical school.

    1. I guess that’s better than being Bush I’s chief of staff, John Sununu. (Though, to give him some credit,at one time he was one engineer among 261 lawyers in the U.S. House of Representatives.)

  17. Hopefully, I will be able to go away while still able to smile and say goodbye/thank you to close friends and close relatives.

    I do not want to go away in pain and alone, pee-ree-od.

  18. Pain free please. If I have to have a prolonged stay in a nursing facility, I’d like dementia like my aunt Gert. She spent her remaining years convinced she lived on a cruise ship and was married to a doctor. It was the happiest she’d been in years.

    1. Problem is, it might not work out that way. My mother’s last years were spent recognizing neither my father nor her home. She kept saying, “Who are these people? I want to go home.”

      Horror. I do not want to go thru that. (Btw, this is fodder for the theories of those who say the self does not exist — be he Buddhist or whatever.)

  19. I’ve been an ardent scuba diver for over 40 years. Diving is almost like visiting another planet – beautiful life forms that never make up your live-a-day world, even the operative physics is different. For any atheist, diving is as spiritual an experience as there can be. So I would like to die on a dive. Now drowning is NOT very pleasant, but a deep dive can just knock you out. Surrounded by beauty – weightless. Can’t imagine a better exit.

    1. Have you seen The Big Blue (“Le grand bleu”)? If not, I recommend it as a great movie about diving that also touches on the very theme you mentioned.

      1. (To anyone who wants to see it, I recommend the full 168-minute version, not the 132-minute version cut for the theater.)

  20. “I expect to die at 110, shot by a jealous husband.”

    -Thurgood Marshall

    At my wake, I want my ashes to be mixed with coffee grounds and so I can be served to my survivors.

  21. Old age, one last day at the ocean surfing, of a sudden heart attack while enjoying one last wave. Leave my body in the water – fish and sea gulls can enjoy a meal.

  22. I want to die like Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis’ character) in Armageddon, voluntarily staying behind to trigger the asteroid-destroying bomb that will save all of mankind. My last words would be “Eat your heart out, Jesus, I died for mankind’s survival!”

  23. Very interesting piece. I’ve attempted suicide 6 times since 2010, 4 of them this year. I’ve been diagnosed with EUPD (Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder) and repeated self-harm and suicidal tendencies is a large part of the condition. All of my attempts have been via insulin overdose (I’m Type 1 diabetic so always available). Thanks to excellent support and medication I’m now stable enough to overcome these imperatives/compulsions. I wouldn’t choose that way to go again. For me heroin/morphine OD (providing I get a choice) – much more pleasurable/effective.

    1. I think attempting a drug overdose is a bad idea no matter which drug you use, unless the drug is designed to kill. The chance of success is too low, and you could wind up alive with permanent, crippling organ damage. And attempting to procure the drugs in the first place could lead to imprisonment.

      1. All very true. The knowledge that I could have incurred permanent brain damage after my last attempt that has helped me overcome the compulsion since. Don’t think I did though! Dribble…. 😉

  24. No resuscitators. I’ve already told my son to play Highway to Hell while scattering my ashes.

    1. “I’ve already told my son to play Highway to Hell while scattering my ashes.”


      I don’t think much about how to go, just vaguely hoping I mimic my maternal grandfather who, at age 94, sat down in his favorite chair one last time and was gone.

      I do often think of the commemoration. I want someone to read a few words of truth about me that have been kept deep within for decades, and I want my favorite music played. No one will appreciate any of the songs, but they can suffer through them one last time. Green Day’s “Good Riddance”, Crosby Stills Nash’s “Find the Cost of Freedom” are required, plus a handful of favorites. Kyuss’ “Green Machine”, Metallica’s “One”, Aerosmith’s “Movin’ Out”, Egypt’s “Valley of the King”, Red Giant’s “White Mom”, The Phuss’ “Oh Black Water”, and Led Zeppelin’s “The Rover”.

      I would like to think of something as clever as Jerry’s fly food process. Hopefully in the intervening years something will come to me.

      This was fun.

  25. Ski my brains out to the age of 105; then a polar or grizzly comes silently down the trail behind me; and, whomp!!, never knew what hit me. Then a good meal for the lucky predator. (I really do believe that I would be rather tasty—unfortunately, polars prefer seals and grizzlies are asleep that time of year.)

  26. My sister is a nurse who works in an ER and she has mentioned nurses that were talking (joking?) about getting “DNR” tattooed on their chest for Do Not Resuscitate.

  27. “Peacefully, in my sleep like my grandfather. Not screaming in terror, like his passengers.” Joke.

    Quick. Without being a physical or emotional burden, and hopefully before the money is all gone.

    As for the send off, I don’t need anything at that point. We live in Florida, so maybe ashes into the sea.

  28. I’d like to be hit hard enough on the head to cause death. I wouldn’t know what hit me an there would be no pain.

    I’d be cremated and ashes put in a wine bottle and at the party there would be a contest of what goes on the label.

  29. Sorry to be a killjoy, but I get annoyed with all the men (not just here) who want to die during sex. Do you not give any thought to the person you’re with at the time?

    Yes, I know, get a sense of humour. Well mostly my sense of humour is extremely well developed – many would say I’m too ready to see the funny side of things. I guess I’ve just had too many selfish and thoughtless men in my life to do that in these circumstances. And no, it hasn’t happened to me or anyone I know.

    1. I know, right? Guys, listen to Heather: If you’re gonna go out with a bang (ahem), make sure your significant other has been satisfied first! Be considerate!

      1. Most hilarious. I am not sure that anyone actually wishes the sex-death thing, but it’s funny to imagine…in light of what death is and means.

    2. What do you make of a lady friend of mine who expressed the same wish (or at least, “as good a place as any” as she said)? 😉

      If I knew people better maybe pairing up would work …

  30. Thank you for posting this topic and all the responses. Those of us who live long enough have witnessed all kinds of deaths, some better or worse than others. One of my grandmothers had a stroke and was kept “alive”
    in a hospital for 56 days. My father died suddenly of a heart attack or stroke while mowing the lawn. My sister-in-law committed suicide by shooting herself. There were long term emotional consequences for our family with
    each of these deaths.

    My dearest friend had a stroke and was under hospice care in her home when family convinced her to ask for rehabilitation. This took her off hospice care, and during the week she was not in their care, she developed a massive, painful bedsore. There had been no hope for her recovery and she was put through all this unnecessary pain for the family.

    My husband is dying of Stage 4 Adenocarcinoma
    treated with chemo. There are no magical trials, treatments or procedures for him.
    Fortunately, we live in Oregon. When he feels the time has come, he will begin proceedings for Assisted Suicide/Death with Dignity (whatever you want to call it). Whether he chooses to proceed with that option or not is his choice, but he will be prepared. We have a trust that specifies our end of life wishes. My husband will be cremated. His ashes will be held until I die and am cremated. Our ashes will be mixed. We have asked to be dispersed in a California National Forest that we enjoyed camping and fishing in with our kids and friends for many years. We want
    to rejoin the cycle of life in this way.

    1. Thanks for sharing this. I think many of us don’t realize that the older we are the more sad things will be when it comes to losing those we love.

    2. You write with such clarity and calm, such insight, that reading it helps very much. I think you should consider writing more, perhaps a book, so others can understand, and so Death with Dignity can spread faster to more states. Such a book would be most appreciated. May your husband enjoy as much as possible all the time he has left, and may you have many years more before your ashes are joined.

  31. I’m going to opt fo the Frank Drebin preffered mode of death: having my nuts caught in an insincerator.

  32. people who are interested in having some measure of control over their own death should check out derek humphry’s books and websites).

    especially important if you don’t live in a right to die state. it takes planning but a relatively pain-free death on your own terms can be accomplished.

  33. I plan to commit suicide when my body or mind or finances degenerate to the point where I can no longer live a good life. My body will not be found, except by aquatic organisms. (Maybe I’ll be healthy right up to the end, but I’m not counting on that.)

    It would be interesting to allow myself to be killed and eaten by a large predator. Unlike people who want to die peacefully, I’d prefer a violent death, but a quick one. Suffering for hours or days would be horrible, but a minute or two would be a “fun” experience. I fear that any wild animal who kills a man may be hunted down, though, and I don’t want that. So it’s Davy Jones’ locker for me.

  34. The main issue for me is to die suddenly, not slowly.
    I would like a lot of cool music played at my memorial, kind of like the New Orleans custom of a “jazz funeral”.
    and have the tone be a festive celebration of my life as in the classic Irish wake.

    This thread reminds me of a very early Bob Dylan song entitled “Let Me Die in My Footsteps” which on one of the several “bootleg” albums.
    The song is as a protest against fallout shelters, not a protest against artificial life extensions, but hey one can always rewrite the lyrics to make it the latter.

  35. I want to go gently into that good night. Peacefully, calmly and quietly. Just to slip away, painlessly and with my family around me. No tears.

  36. I’ve seen several books and websites that have discussed how Doctors get medical care when faced with serious diagnoses. Across the board, they seem to opt out of most treatment plans that they would routinely recommend to patients. My wife is a Doctor, and she and I agree, if faced with a terminal diagnosis, we will opt for treatments geared toward quality of whatever remains of life. If things get too bad, we have no qualms abut assisted suicide. Of course, we hope such decisions are a long way off. But we’ve both seen too many people suffer needlessly for too long trying to prevent the inevitable.

      1. LOL – I had forgotten that bit ( just remember the salmon mousse). This is the first YouTube video I’ve seen with a trigger warning I had to click on!

  37. I’ll travel to Southern or Eastern Europe to buy the right medication. However Alzheimer could spoil that.

  38. Interestingly apropos! On my other screen at this very exact moment is the final drafting of

    i) my financial power of attorney and
    ii) my advance directives — to include the living will and the ultimate dispatch of all of my ash.

    An appointment for notarization and witnessing thereof is set for late this very next Thursday morning, day after tomorrow. Crikey! The last will / testament deal was done three years ago ‘nd hasn’t, to my mind, changed; I just finally got around to crafting this other one over the … … Independence Day weekend! Of course! … … then. Including squat near and at t o d for chaplaincies or any other woodoo – ritual purveyors — with their wooish wares to come anywhere near my dropped corpse.

    My ash ‘ll go, my Grim Reaping Committee (.the official appellation. of my overseers in above said document, by the way, consisting of six extremely darling Righteous Ancestors – in – Training themselves) assures me, to pushing up daisies, literally, which perhaps ‘ll eventually … … in universal explosions a few billion eons from now come back again as pieces of … … m’stardust.

    Of the ceremony I have written before: a scavenger – hunt plus old haunts’ – visiting / bash – partying. With plenty of paeans sporting rewritten lyrics to match in their lovely scores with who I actually was.

    Perhaps whilst I still deep breathe, too — cuz I love such hunts and haunts and‘d wanna join in — literally, of course, wouldn’t I? And one of my favorite old hideouts is a university staff’s steam room which I have languished within on ‘nd off for some 26 years’ time now and ‘d love for it to be the venue at where, actually, I finally, and suddenly, keel over and of it all just … … quit BE – ing.


  39. If not at the piano, with a final spasmic discord, then while watching His Girl Friday. Having said that, I do spend each day as if it were my last- mumbling incoherently and slipping in and out of consciousness.

  40. More than likely massive heart attack or massive stroke. Both are the normal ways for both sides of the family. Smile on my face like my grandfather.

    If anything is useful donate it, if not donate to a med school with the brain going for migraine/cluster headache research.

    Don’t particularly care what people want to do after that. I’d recommend a traditional Irish wake, music, food, song and humour.

  41. In Graham Greene’s novel “Travels With My Aunt” and its subsequent film version, a character’s ashes get mixed with marijuana and then smoked. Hard to top that.

    However…donate the body to science and then, when science is done with it or if science has no use for it, burn it and throw away the ashes.

    In “The Loved One” (which bears fairly little resemblance to its source, Evelyn Waugh’s satire of Southern California mortuary life), a demented developer, avid to repurpose a Forest Lawn-type cemetery into amore lucrative venture, muses, “There’s got to be a way to get these stiffs off my property.” His eventual solution: fire them into space. This, too, seems fitting.

  42. I don’t know what I’d prefer; sudden so I didn’t have time to be fearful, or slowly with time to prepare things. I certainly wouldn’t want to be in great pain, nor would I wish to be a bother to anyone. I don’t want to die alone and not be discovered for days and I don’t wish to make a mess for anyone to clean up. I absolutely fear alzheimer’s or dementia, more than I fear death itself.

    I guess what I would want more than anything is to have the chance to say goodbye to my son. He’s the most important thing in my life by far. Nothing else could matter more.

    1. I thought of this too. Like, aliens come to earth and say they are sparing us because this guys brain is all we really want and then they extract may brain painlessly and rest of humanity wonders ‘WTF’ did this guy do to save us all.

  43. I just had an eerie thought about one of us kicking the bucket then the rest of us checking back here to see what was written.

    Now I’m freaked out.

    1. yeah, I think I need some comedy to cheer me up, too. Just the other night I read the latest Oliver Sacks article called “My Periodic Table” from the New York Times, then watched David Suchet in “Curtain” Poirot’s last case…I was a mess!

  44. My uncle (surgeon and chief pathologist) once told me he’d like to go in the manner of his uncle’s wife: coronary artery blockage. Back when he said it 25 years or so ago he believed that what little evidence existed suggested that the patient simply goes numb, loses consciousness, and is with the dodos in under 3 minutes.

    1. Approximately half of human beings’ fatalities from — “coronary artery blockage” — result in deaths as you describe. Another similar percentage of swift dyings originate from a sudden arrest by way of an electrical cardiac disturbance.

      An autopsy was never done so it is not known; but whilst shaving in order to head off to work fulltime, Daddy literally dropped and was dead ‘fore he hit the floor on the very early morning — a Monday’s — of the day of the week for most human males’ such sudden collapsing.

      Shockingly tough ‘twas at the first of those words in to my ear (that telephone call, ya’ know); but the man, a paragon of fathering and husbanding and an agricultural economist by education / vocation in all of his completest of lifetimes, only ever had harbored i) one fear and ii) one loathing: i) to spend as a resident one hour in any nursing home – like facility and ii) to have his people spend one $ on his medical behalf catastrophically trying to stop him from ceasing his breathing upon his last days of lucidity.

      He suffered neither fear nor loathing.
      On his last journey all the way down to the floor.

      For which I am so, so grateful.

      Rocky, though, for me — and for him — that he wasn’t, say, age 92.

      He was only 72. And gone from me forever.


  45. I’m terrified of a slow tedious process with physical and mental suffering. I’ve seen too many family members go this way, robbed of all dignity and inability to do much of anything on your own, on top of great pain.

    I’d like my death to be instant and I’d rather not know about it at all. I’d prefer some stranger coming up behind me and shooting me in the head over the daunting process of going in and out of the hospital, surgeries, oxygen, bed sores, etc..
    I’ve seriously considered suicide, if it’s in my means, slightly before I reach that point. If I live a “normal” healthy life, this should be many many years down the road, as I’m in my 20’s. But I do tend to feel a bit like Hunter S. Thompson, that without knowing I could take my life at any time I please, there comes a bizarre uncomfortable slavish-like feeling.

    I strongly hope to be living in an area that embraces euthanasia when the time comes.

    I really don’t care what sort of postmortem rituals take place after my demise. I should hope I am remembered fondly and accurately to the best degree. I’d have to agree that a bibulous celebration with good food and music would be pleasant.

  46. A full size mahogany Steinway from the 10th floor, followed by the Looney Tunes them played by Dr. Seuss characters.

  47. Following the original topic, do implement an advanced medical directive and, following the doctors’ example, go through the check list with no, no, no, no… Trust the judgment of any physician who thinks you’re terminal. You’ll save yourself much pain and your beloved more.

  48. In my sleep or suddenly would be fine. If it’s sudden, I wouldn’t mind it happening during Aikido practice. Afterwards, just for the heck of it, my friends could form the Krewe of Kremation and march in the Krewe du Vieux parade at the start of Mardi Gras, sprinkling my ashes along the parade route.

  49. For me, it would be great to drive a tanker truck full of hydrochloric acid into an abandoned limestone quarry. Perhaps the most honorable of deaths for a geologist. Sure there would be some localized environmental damage, but there would also be an awesome mountain of foam.

  50. I don’t know, rather than sudden death, I’d like to have a death everyone can see coming so I’d have a moment to meet my loved ones. You see, our memory is limited so I’d like to fill my last memories with the last conversations I have with precious people. Well but of course it assumes that I don’t have dementia or alzheimer in my last days.

  51. Like most of you, I want to go quickly, when I’m very old and just before I get really gaga. Neither of my parents were that fortunate (cancer with the last two weeks spent so heavily medicated Mom might as well not have been there, and COPD) so I don’t expect to go so easily.

    Although I don’t want to go to any nursing home I’m likely to be able to afford, it may not be all bad, if people visit often.

    I have a living will (do anything at all if I’m likely to survive as a functional human, and nothing if I’m not; hard judgements for someone).

    Suicide before the end — certainly my hope if I don’t just die suddenly. I live in a state that allows assisted suicide, and I am also prepared to go out a messy way, with a gun. (That’s fast and very effective if done right, as my always competent and severely depressed husband did two decades ago.) But I fear I will miss the point where I’m still able to effectively choose suicide, since I will be hoping to live acceptably for just a little longer and then . . . too late.

    Funerals are for the survivors, so what ever my loved ones want is OK with me.

    Oh, well. I’m not young, but I have a lot to do before I die, so I’d better get back to it.

  52. I’ll pass on how for the moment, but for the aftermath it seems most everyone plans to be cremated. That’s only sensible and was what my father came around to as well (but not before buying some burial plots). He had read of someone who had assembled a collection of 35mm film canisters and had them labelled as to where the contents in each was to be spread – all of the guy’s favorite places, naturally.

    My father never got around to doing that, but one place was special for all of us – Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park. The cool thing about that, is that they have a webcam aimed on it. I can remotely visit where their ashes are spread at the click of a mouse, saving much time and petrol.

    I expect that most National Parks have a webcam aimed at one of their signature sites.

  53. I don’t want to die, but in the event that I do, I’d prefer it to be just as you have imagined it for yourself, Prof. Coyne.

    By the way, thank you and your helpers for all the wonderful posts these past few months. They are appreciated. Regarding those posts containing often mouth-watering culinary delights, I now look at them *after* I’ve had lunch or dinner, rather than my usual time of late at night, long after I’d eaten.

    The latter strategy was just too appetite-stimulating, causing me to perform strange nocturnal kitchen rituals that inevitably woke and alarmed my partner.

    Best wishes on your journey.

  54. I want to be surrounded by family, at home in hospice care, and I want to be alert. I want to say goodbye and I want to know I’m going. I want to experience that last moment of consciousness. I want to feel the lights go out. I don’t know why, but I feel like if I miss that, I’ll miss the very last thing I ever could have experienced.

  55. Well, I’d like to go out with a bang. Preferable scenario: heaving a lethal heart attack while I’m banging two hookers high on cocaine.

  56. I prefer to die in my sleep, preferably without previous ailments but later rather than sooner.

    My body will go to medical studies (likely teaching students carving up bodies), that at least I can control and have fixed.

  57. I’d like to die instantly, without warning, like my grandpa, not screaming in terror like the passengers in his car!

  58. This may have been mentioned already; but this is the subject of Atul Gawande’s (excellent) most recent book, Being Mortal.

    Two of my relatives have either just passed or are about to. Both chose hospice/palliative care over “full measures”. I think this is wise. My wife and I intend to do the same. We are filling out advanced directives to that effect.

    Gawande’s main point is: In the past we (US/western medical community)have always approached end-of-life from the standpoint of “doing something”. That is: Take whatever medical steps can be done to extend the calendar time left to a person. Without telling them of the alternatives or informing them of what their quality of life might be under those procedures.

    For most people, most of the time, at the end of their life, want to be made comfortable (palliative care) and have the best quality of life towards the end. Most people want to spend their remaining time at home, amongst their family. “Full medical measures” prevent this and cause people to die in circumstances they never would have chosen knowingly.

    In addition, there is a huge amount of money (essentially) wasted trying to extend the “calendar time” without any real prospect of long-term improvement. La Crosse, Wisconsin, very close to where I live, has the lowest per capita health care costs in the US. This is largely due to the fact that one doctor, some time ago, made it his goal to have all his patients (and those in his hospital) fill out advanced directives. Almost all choose to not go for “full measures” medicine at the end; but instead choose comfort and time with family, at home if possible. This is wise.

    The GOP in the US (of course) have muddied these waters with their nonsense about “death panels”.

    1. I’m pretty sure I will (if not taken early by an accident) die from pneumonia (chronic lung issues*).

      I take comfort from the fact that it used to be referred to as, “the old man’s friend.” And from seeing my father die from it.

      (* Inherited. I’ve never smoked. Well, that’s a lie: I’ve smoked fewer than 10 cigarettes, 10 cigars, and 100 joints ( 🙂 ) in my entire life.)

  59. How to do what I don’t want to do, at least, at this present moment? How to get kids to eat what they don’t want to? Make it fun for them, move your hand like an airplane carrying food into their mouths. So I would love die giggling. But knowing me, I will probably be thinking, will this be my last thought? Hence I know what my last thought–if I am still capable of cognition–will be. 🙂

    But mostly I want to go the way Olivier Sacks is going, with verve, with appreciation, and gratitude for having lived. Like Christopher Hitchens also. How to have a good death? Have a good life.

    What to do with my remains? An approach I read awhile go was to just let human bodies rot on the ground, though protected by wild animals. Apparently rotten human flesh does heaps for ecology. And it was probably the way many humans historically gave back their elemental goodness.

  60. In the event I contract an incurable wasting disease, eg Alzheimer’s, a load of narcotics will do. Otherwise? Sudden cardiac death or an aneurysm that I don’t even realize is happening is nice.

    What I really wish for is for our culture to accept death more willingly. There is this idea that fighting against impossible odds is desirable but in the end a lot of patients learn the hard way. Let the grandparents go. No elderly individual should die with hand prints on their chest, a free-floating sternum, and tubes out every orifice.

  61. I’m not in terribly good shape, and I expect to be progressively more and more disabled when I get older. About the only healthy thing is my circulatory system; a heart attack is unlikely. So I want the option of euthanasia when the time comes.

    I want my body to be cremated. If someone insists on a secular memorial something, that’s fine, as long as really good food and wine in general and really, really good chocolate is served. Then I want my ashes dropped into a subduction zone. to be dragged on a downgoing plate, mixing with the hot water that wets crustal magma so that it melts, and is eventually erupted. In short, I want to come back as a volcano. So want if it takes a few million years? I won’t be in any hurry.

  62. I’d like to die instantly being shot in the head by Halle Berry’s jealous husband when he catches me in bed with her.

    The last words I want to hear are ‘I warned you the last three times that I’d kill you for this!’

    1. All these people who want to be shot while they’re on the job, I dunno.

      If I’d managed to make it with Halle Berry, I’d want to enjoy it to the full… the last thing I’d want would be to be rudely interrupted.


  63. Posted on a wall:

    God, are you going to kill me today?


    God, how are you going to kill me?

  64. My sentiments echo those of the late, great Jake Thackray which, if you’ll forgive, I’ll reproduce here ….

    I, the under-mentioned, by this document
    Do declare my true intentions, my last will, my testament.
    When I turn up my toes, when I rattle my clack, when I agonise,
    I want no great wet weepings, no tearing of hair, no wringing of hands,
    No sighs, no lack-a-days, no woe-is-me’s and none of your sad adieus.
    Go, go, go and get the priest and then go get the booze, boys.

    Death, where is thy victory? Grave, where is thy sting?
    When I snuff it bury me quickly, then let carousels begin –
    But not a do with a few ham sandwiches, a sausage roll or two and “A small port wine, please”.
    Roll the carpet right back, get cracking with your old Gay Gordons
    And your knees up, shake it up, live it up, sup it up, hell of a kind of a time.
    And if the coppers come around, well, tell them the party’s mine, boys.

    Let best beef be eaten, fill every empty glass,
    Let no breast be beaten, let no tooth be gnashed.
    Don’t bother with a fancy tombstone or a big-deal angel or a little copper flower pot:
    Grow a dog-rose in my eyes or a pussy-willow
    But no forget-me-nots, no epitaphs, no keepsakes; you can let my memory slip.
    You can say a prayer or two for me soul then, but – make it quick, boys.

    Lady, if your bosom is heaving don’t waste your bosom on me.
    Let it heave for a man who’s breathing, a man who can feel, a man who can see.
    And to my cronies: you can read my books, you can drive around in my motor car.
    And you can fish your trout with my fly and tackle, you can play on my guitar,
    And sing my songs, wear my shirts. You can even settle my debts.
    You can kiss my little missus if she’s willing then, but – no regrets, boys.

    Your rosebuds are numbered;
    Gather them now for rosebuds’ sake.
    And if your hands aren’t too encumbered
    Gather a bud or two for Jake.

  65. Wait, upon further consideration on the drive home today, I’ve decided that I want to go out in a way that I can’t believe didn’t occur to me in the first place!

    I want to go out like a replicant. I want to go out like Roy Batty, slowly winding down (after breaking a guy’s fingers) and reciting the famous Tears in Rain monologue*:

    I’ve… seen things… you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion; I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate… All those… moments… will be lost, in time, like tears… in… rain. Time… to die.

    *I’m really freaked out now because I now fear I’ll die early & think back to this joke & how it isn’t so funny when you’re actually dying. Damn it! Why can’t my brain let me have any fun?!

    1. Because it feels it hasn’t permission. Therefore, I give you permission to have fun, especially regarding this time, especially now and forevermore. Your brain may chillax, now, as I have given you permission. Indeed, make that “doctor’s orders!”

  66. It is probably very unlikely that David Berlinski is a closeted believer. The more plausible explanation is that he has made a living out of selling his special brand of snake oil. At his point in his life he has run out of legitimate ways to earn a living.

  67. As a medic by trade, I’ve participated in several resuscitations, some with astounding (even miraculous tehe) results but most with horrifying outcomes. Some never awaken, some awaken to die quickly again, some with horrible disability, etc. Every variation you could think of. That’s why medical personnel have dark senses of humor.

    Anyway I wish to be buried as Frank Herbert wrote à la Bene Gesserit: wrapped in linen and buried with a sapling apple tree planted atop the grave. Hopefully a beautiful orchard would soon follow.

    Love your blog and vos pensées, bonne chance !

  68. In my sleep. If not in my sleep suddenly and quickly. I watched my mother die slowly of breast cancer. I could see the worry and concern on her face for years. Sadly I don’t have any choice in the matter. I only know that I will die not when or how.

  69. A drip with a morphine & penthotal cocktail would appear to be ‘soft’: these patients are found dead with a smile on their face. IV barbiturates are very fast, also a good choice for euthanasia.

    I would definitely not go for cardiac infarction, very painful and unsettling. Metastasized cancers are not an attractive option either, painful, prolonged and debilitating.

    It appears that ‘soft hanging’, say strangulation, is a kind of ecstatic way to go. I seem to remember that in Fritz Leiber’s “The Wanderer” a general and his female aide-de-champ decide, when they realise they are going to drown anyway, to copulate while strangling each other (how they continue to bring the strangulation to the desired end when losing consciousness is not really explained).
    By the way, in that book one of the main characters is a feline alien, highly seductive, superior and female: Tigrishka (if I remember correctly). I imagine Jerry would fall for her before you could even say “Tigrishka” 🙂

  70. I guess I have an affinity for the dramatic. To be anesthetized until your heart stops just isn’t appealing to me.
    I’m considering the use of genetically modified brain eating amoebas. They are engineered to by-pass the cerebrum, the hypothalamus, and the brain stem and head strait for the soul. Once this has been gutted, I would be, of course, a classic philosophical zombie. The amoeba go dormant at this point so that I can enjoy a year or so of this altered state of being (that’s where the drama comes in), then they revive and finish the job on the rest of the brain, leading to my demise. I will die with the smile of a man with a fully satisfied curiosity.

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