Birth-Houses – Death-Houses

We have “birth-houses” in the form of maternity units; but there is barely an example in our societies of “death-houses”. A tolerable death, however, is surely the very least that a civilized society owes to its citizens, all of whom became such, after all, through no deliberate choice of their own. It is Witold Gombrowicz (1904–1969) who argues particularly eloquently for “death-houses” as compensation for our existential heteronomy and portrays, furthermore, how far we still are from this point:

“Why is the death of human beings still today so like the death of an animal? Why do our death-agonies remain so solitary and so primitive? Why have you not succeeded in civilizing death?

To think that this terrible thing, the final death-agony, is still so rife among us as in the very first days of Creation. In the course of millennia we have succeeded in changing nothing here, have left this savage taboo quite intact. We have television and use electric eiderdowns, but we still die as the men and women of savage eras did. Very occasionally, a doctor will secretly and ashamedly shorten the sufferings of a dying human being with an increased dose of morphine. A desperate intervention, always too little in the face of the terrible omnipresence of death and dying: I call for “death-houses” in which the most modern means for bringing about an easy death would stand at the disposition of everyone. “Death-houses” in which one might bring about one’s death unproblematically without having to throw oneself in front of a train or hang oneself from a doorknob. “Death-houses” in which exhausted, broken, used-up human beings might confide themselves to the care of specialists who can ensure for them a death without shame or excessive suffering.” (Gombrowicz, Tagebuch 1953-1969)

In this following passage Gombrowicz speaks of being “condemned to life” but does not name the “condemners” (the parents) by name, even though he does insist that the inevitable fate of all (children) who are caused to begin to exist is a fate that is clearly known to everyone:

“Each one of us is slowly and gradually destroyed until the day when his or her countenance is no longer to be recognized at all – and you know this, you know of this inevitable fate, yet lift no finger to spare this suffering to yourselves and to your own. What are you afraid of? That all too many people will simply bolt if you open the gates too wide? Allow those who wish to die to do so. Force no one to carry on living just because dying would be too uncomfortable – to do so is base and cruel […] This life to which I am condemned can trample me and violate me with the cruelty of a savage beast; but I possess a great and sovereign recourse against this: I can take my own life. If I do not wish to, I do not need to go on living. I did not invite myself into this world but I have the choice, at least, of leaving it… and this is the foundation of my freedom. And indeed also of my dignity (because to live with dignity means to live of one’s own free will).” (Ibid.)

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