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A Protocol for Dying (hintjens.com)
1610 points by aleksi on April 22, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 318 comments

From personal experience, I can very much relate to and agree with this piece. My father went through a similar process: cancer (melanoma) – two years of treatment and coming to terms with the facts – euthanasia. As a family, we have been very matter-of-fact about it, which was definitely something he encouraged and participated in. We frequently talked about all aspects of his disease, the future, how it affected him and us. Sometimes one of us sighed that it would have been so much better if he would have suddenly died in his sleep but I always disagreed with that, it would just have come with a different set of emotions and grieving. I am actually very happy that we were able to share parts of this process with each other while he was still around.

The weekend before his death, our house was filled with people who worked up the courage to come say goodbye, he sat among them in the living room and took a few minutes in person with everyone as much as his state allowed. I sat on his bed as he was treated with euthanasia, which was one of the most intense experiences of my life. I still miss the man every day, but because of the process we had together, I have nothing but fond memories of the times he was still there, including the very hard periods of time that come with a disease like this.

This turned into a bit more text than I intended but my point is this: If you ever have a choice in the way you are to die, take heed of the points in this story. It may seem brutal at times to be as honest and open as you can about such an intimate process, but having gone through it once, I have absolutely no regrets. I wish Pieter and his loved ones all the best in the coming times.

I just spent over a year with someone who died of cancer on Tuesday. I don't know if she would have opted for suicide if it had been legal here, but I do know that the last few weeks were extremely difficult for everyone involved. I have a very clear image of how cancer kills a person now. We did our best to maintain her dignity, but the body is not on your side. It's humbling, to say the least, which is a profound lesson in and of itself.

I think that euthanasia is very different from suicide. Euthanasia is an acceptance of very probable death in a way that reduces both the person's suffering, but also the suffering of those who love them (much as the beautifully written articles talks about). Suicide in contrast can devastate the lives of the people who loved them.

No, that's not euthanasia. On that account, sedation without death would count. Euthanasia is when you ask (or in some cases, force, against their conscience) someone to kill you. Compare with "suicide by cop".

We are going to die. Some of us are going to die on the street after decades of physical pain, alienation, emotional abandonment, mental illness, and alcoholism/drug abuse. Many of these have less true hope for a good life than a cancer patient like Pieter, but it would be insane if there were dozens of comments lamenting the lack of voluntary suicide services in homeless shelters (though maybe we're a bit sensitive about that sort of thing not working out too well the last time we tried it).

Humans have something that puts us above being put down like an animal. And we have to suffer for it - like we do for many of the other things that make us human.

This is not accurate. Euthanasia in Belgium (as in all countries where it's a legal act) has nothing to do with suicide and everything to do with removing pain and criminality from what is a fairly widespread act.

* Doctors who wish to help their suffering patients can do so without fear of criminal prosecution.

* Terminal patients can control their own deaths without family demanding expensive, painful treatments that have little or no chance of success.

* Such patients are protected from punishments such as loss of insurance.

* Family and friends can be shielded from extended stress and trauma.

Given that cancer is a majority cause of death in the West, and tends to be incurable in most cases, and tends to lead to massive suffering, euthanasia is IMO one of the most fundamental human rights.

You are of course free to reject such a course based on your own beliefs. However to argue that suffering and pain are the cost of being human is... invalid.

I think we at least agree on suicide. Suicide is a desperate act: we must feel deep sympathy for its victims and contempt for its promotion. But what you plan to undertake - euthanasia - is not suicide, but just something that reduces pain, stress, and financial loss.

Those are the goals, but to attain them you plan to ask someone to sedate you and then kill you by stopping your heart. The evil of suicide isn't that it's a violent or unexpected death, but that it is a planned death, the victim trading her life for benefits like reduced suffering (or in even sadder cases, life insurance payoffs, a ufo trip, honor for the emperor, whatever). The person's remaining life seems worthless, so they plan, make their decision, feel at peace and begin to put their affairs in order - I read this in a "suicide prevention" pamphlet. Please tell me what the difference is to you, since I no longer have the opportunity to ask someone in that position. I see the following answers:

* It is not suicide because I really am better off dead.

* It is not suicide because numerous doctors judge that I really am better off dead.

* It is not suicide because cancer is worse than depression and an injection is better than a rope.

* It is not suicide because my loved ones also feel at peace with my decision.

Can you tell me plainly how what you plan is different from suicide?

And sure, I agree that humans are rational animals, not suffering animals. But the world is not perfect, so there are still some times where we must endure even intense suffering to maintain our human dignity. You are fortunate enough to have access to sedation until natural death, why not take advantage of that instead?

Out of curiosity do you live in the US?

I am from the Netherlands. Euthanasia is legal here, although strictly regulated (as I think it should be by the way, this is not the sort of choice that should be taken or approved lightly by anyone involved). Several doctors had to sign off on it, and they were thorough in making sure that this was his decision alone and that nobody around him was "pushing" him into it. Fortunately (if you can call it that), his medical situation was a textbook case of unbearable and hopeless suffering, and also he still had a clear enough mind to express his wishes. That made the approval process fairly straightforward in his case.

For those wondering what the typical regulations consist of, I found the following article doing a quick google search:

>> In all jurisdictions, the request for euthanasia or pas has to be voluntary, well-considered, informed, and persistent over time. The requesting person must provide explicit written consent and must be competent at the time the request is made. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3070710/

This is fairly comprehensive, which is reassuring. However, the article goes on to say:

>> Despite those safeguards, more than 500 people in the Netherlands are euthanized involuntarily every year. In 2005, a total of 2410 deaths by euthanasia or pas [physician assisted suicide] were reported, representing 1.7% of all deaths in the Netherlands. More than 560 people (0.4% of all deaths) were administered lethal substances without having given explicit consent. For every 5 people euthanized, 1 is euthanized without having given explicit consent.

Just because regulations are strict, does not mean that they are strictly followed, or enforced.

It would be relevant to know, of the 'involuntary' numbers, how many of those were statutory involuntary and for what reasons.

My hope is that in the majority of those cases the paperwork either just didn't get finished in time, or that the subject in some way did actually want this but started the process too late to be clearly of their own decision.

Reading the PDF (http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/nejmsa071143):

"When life was ended without the explicit request of the patient, there had been discussion about the act or a previous wish of the patient for the act in 60.0% of patients, as compared with 26.5% in 2001. In 2005, the ending of life was not discussed with patients because they were unconscious (10.4%) or incompetent owing to young age (14.4%) or because of other factors (15.3%). Of all cases of the ending of life in 2005 without an explicit request by the patient, 80.9% had been discussed with relatives. In 65.3% of cases, the physician had discussed the decision with one or more colleagues"

So, part of this is due to the fact that the law states that doctors must check that the patient consents _now_ with the choice. A written statement that, for example, one doesn't want to live on with Alzheimer's when one has reached a well-described state is not sufficient.

So you're essentially hoping that these people, who did not give explicit consent, actually (and perhaps secretly) did want to be killed?

My hope is that where paperwork did go through, no person was uncertain or regretted their life-altering decision (which, for example, increases suicide risk in one's family twofold). But I doubt that either of our hopes lives up to reality.

> increases suicide risk in one's family twofold

Euthanasia increases suicide risks as opposed to dying painfully of natural causes?

> increases suicide risk in one's family twofold

What is the baseline here? Could you provide a source?

The twitter account in bsander's profile says Amsterdam.

Revolting. I protest against suicide, the "assistance", the approval, and the very idea that it could somehow be eu (good).

That's an opinion that is perfectly valid for an individual to have.

However, when you express this opinion in an expressly negative way, it makes it sound like you are attempting to invalidate the opinions of people who might hold contrasting beliefs. And history has shown this to be one of the top 10 causes for conflict and wars.

Perhaps you might find a more positive way to express your personal beliefs? Perhaps you could say, "I wish we lived in a world without pain or terminal illness, so nobody would have to make the choice between pointless suffering and death".

If you find some way to contribute to the conversation without calling a man dying of cancer "revolting", you would have a better chance of finding common ground and reaching consensus.

To disagree is to try to invalidate contrasting beliefs. They aren't saying "people who commit suicide are revolting", nor "I wish we never had to make tough choices that tested our moral constitution" (like you suggest). They're saying "saccharine suicide-endorsement is revolting".

There's no consensus arising from softening and "adjusting" each other's views. We're better off describing things clearly.

What is euthanasia, except killing yourself because you have no hope for your remaining life, like every other suicide? Is it justified because you had your family and your doctor agree with you?

I suspect you vastly underestimate the suffering in the last few weeks of cancer. you are literally being slowly eaten alive until there is not enough left to keep up basic bodily functions and pain medications generally stop being effective. You can be in chemical induced sleep or unimaginable pain.

Luckily, nobody cares what you think.

Good journey sir. Thank you for this piece. I feel your model should become an international standard.

I am saddened to see you are so young.

> ... and enforce the barbaric torture of decay and failure. It's especially relevant for cancer, which is a primary cause of death

I'm glad you find yourself somewhere enlightened. As someone who watched his father die of cancer over 2.5-3 years in the UK it almost robbed me of my father for a while. The last six months were brutal. He was either away with the fairies on Morphine, or in his increasingly rare lucid moments, pleading with NHS to reduce his dose. He chose pain and lucidity over a zombie state yet was often denied that choice as the system sought to reduce pain above all. He made it plain when he could, many times during the end months, that he didn't want to play this game any more.

Post death, our memories were of the brutality, of the incoherent husk on drugs who had had enough long since, of the ever increasing dosages and tripping in the system's wish to reduce pain, of the morphine smell. Of being increasingly worn down by it. It was harder in those early weeks after death to remember the real man, so defined by his mind, intelligence, humour and practical jokes. I still miss my best friend.

The UK is no nearer enlightenment on this topic today than 20 years ago when my father died. The views of those claiming a hotline to god, in our increasingly atheistic country, were exceptionally hard to hear, yet always sought in any media discussion of euthanasia.

I am thankful your children and other family will have the blessing of kinder memories.

At least the UK seems to be making moves toward a better system, Terry Pratchett had a bit to do with it. The rest of the european countries are blind to this issue.

This is something that hits very close to home, as I'm in the same path as Pieter and your father and I see that path getting me to the same end. If that happens, I'd like to end on my terms, not as the husk that you describe and not after having my family go through all the pain that you describe.

The only real change in the last few years is when Kier Starmer, then Director of Public Prosecution (now a Labour MP), released a set of guidelines on what criteria are used to decide whether to bring a prosecution in a case of assisted dying. (The CPS have a two-stage test to determine whether to bring a prosecution: firstly, are they likely to succeed? And secondly, is it in the public interest to bring a prosecution. The guidelines clarify what the public interest criteria are for assisted dying cases.)

It's intended to make it so that the relatives of someone who travelled abroad for assisted dying are less likely to be prosecuted under the Suicide Act 1961.

See http://www.theguardian.com/society/2010/feb/25/assisted-suic...

Pretty much all attempts at legal change (whether through legislation or through court action) in the UK have been a failure. It pops up every few years in Parliament and is then roundly voted down.

We seem to be progressing at glacial pace. I hope we've got there if it comes to be a choice I have to consider.

The Terry Pratchett documentary was challenging to watch, but very well made. At least it gave rise to a somewhat more rational discussion of the topic than they often are. It's sure to be out there on a torrent or YT for anyone who's not seen it.

These words hit close to home. My dad just passed away from cancer/diabetes in Florida and had to endure the "barbaric torture of decay and failure". Basically 4 months suffering in bed until he eventually denied eating anything and his liver failed. I asked the nurses repeatedly if there was anything to help him go or pass and there was nothing. Something's got to change in the US, we treat animals better than humans at the end of life

Thank you for your words

Same situation in Italy. Unfortunately. Anyone wanting a be euthanised has to travel Switzerland, which is not always feasible at end-of-life (also considering that the whole procedure costs ~20k$).

I spent my civil service as an EMT and only once I saw a doctor giving the daughter of a terminally ill woman a piece of advice I will never forget (this woman was in such bad conditions, she simply wasn't there anymore and spent 100% of her time with morphin-induced allucinations): after giving her the morphin prescription he told her that "nobody is going to go behind you if you give her an overdose" - implying that she could end her suffering but she had to be the one killing her.

It was by far one of the hardest moment of my life, and I was just a passive witness. It was just brutal.

One thing I've heard of is people "leaving the bottle open" next to the bed. That way the ill person can "accidentally" decide for themselves.

I've heard similar. Also with family members being taught how to use the morphine IV dripper, and what a fatal dose looks like.

The alternative is for patients to refuse food and water until they die.

I'd been thinking about this a lot because my father was diagnosed with a terminal illness 3+ years ago. We'd discussed euthanasia, and he definitely didn't want to spend his final 6-12 months suffering.

Because he didn't die, the docs took another look and realised he'd been misdiagnosed (and yes, we got 2nd & 3rd opinions after the initial diagnosis).

Insane. In your case, I'm glad your dad was misdiagnosed for the good. I can't imagine how this misdiagnose impacted your life and your family during the last few years.

I'm sorry you had to experience that. Some states do allow euthanasia, it's not a federal ban. Unfortunately by the time you know you need it, mobility is often difficult. I'm still young and I desperately hope something changes before I have to answer this question myself. If not, I may move to a better state if I'm lucky enough for the decline to be slow. Meanwhile I'm frightened for my family and loved ones.

Yes, I don't think people understand that the last step of a slow death is starvation until the person stops breathing, at which point, you must fight the urge to revive them. It's brutal. I just watched it happen before my very eyes this week. I will never forget it.

> Something's got to change in the US

Oregon was the first place in the world to legalize euthanasia.

I'm very sorry for your loss.

To anyone who does not know, Pieter Hintjens is the CEO of iMatix, where they build AMQP, ZMQ etc.

Take care /u/PieterH.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pieter_Hintjens 2. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11520888 3. https://twitter.com/hintjens

I build my app using AMQP as one of the building block. Thank you so much to Pieter for creating it. I hope the best for him.

I don't know about his work, but he is a terrific writer!

He's this guy:


Plenty links so you can all learn from and enjoy his work. :)

I was just learning about AMQP, and he mentioned driving to Eindhoven - I study there. This feels close...

Thanks for mentioning this. (The article was by itself also interesting though.)

I didn't know Pieter before today. He's one of the coolest people I've had the good fortune of coming across:

> My first free software is from 1991. I realized the power of community gradually from 2005 when fighting software patents in Europe. I refined and tested the techniques in the ffii for projects like digistan. I saw the failure of money and power in amqp. In zeromq it took years to find the right patterns. I documented much in culture and empire.

This earned my respect beyond words:

> "There's this experimental cure people are talking about." This gets the ban hammer from me, and happily I only got a few of those. Even if there was a miracle cure, the cost and stress (to others) of seeking it is such a selfish and disproportionate act. With, as we know, lottery-style chances of success. We live, we die.

And this is just awesome: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11521249

"I'm sorry to hear this, Pieter. I don't have a question, but would just like to wish you well"

> Excellent question! (can you tell I'm bored in a hospital)? Well, it all started when I was about three, and I discovered ants. Fire ants, to be specific. Biting me all over cause I'd chosen to hide right on top of their nest. There's a lesson there.

Thanks, Pieter. For everything!


If you'd like to thank Pieter more directly, he's accepting Paypal donations at ph@imatix.com.

> Well this is really kind. Yes, I'm pretty broke and have three young children who will be semi orphans. Cue violins. Happy to receive on PayPal at ph@imatix.com. I will give my family the keys to that so they can put it aside for ma wee bairns... Thanks for suggesting this.

And do yourself a favour and buy his highly insightful and all-around great-to-read books:


He gives his books for free, so I can't imagine what buying would do for him (as I presume the paid sum is just the price asked by publishers for their service/channel). If you wish to support him you can do it more directly.

I get a decent chunk of the sale price in fact, as I'm my own publisher. Some people like paper books, some like ebooks, some like PDFs.

I agree with some of these. Further, I found the stuff people said about him in the parent comments even more fun to read. Just goes to show how powerful his work is and how thoughtful is his style.


I wanted to express my compassion, then I figured out that's not what you need. But then, we never shared any good moments to speak about, right ? You're a stranger to me, and yet I can't help but feeling I know you better after reading your letter than many people I meet on a regular basis. And it feels warm inside. Thank you for taking the time to express this.

Thanks for letting me know how it affects you. :)

I always like to think that we don't really die, we live on in the memories of our loved ones. Even if you don't leave a massive legacy behind like you. When I think back of the good moments with my grandparents I'm not sad, I'm happy I got the chance to have experienced them in the first place.

Thank you Pieter, and godspeed on your big journey, whereever it will take you.

This is one of the possible afterlives described in "Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives" of David Eagleman

Very true.

It is not every day we see much written about death on upvote lists like Reddit or HN. So it means a ton to see the perspective of a smart hacker who is indeed met with the undeniable future of his own time. I'm only 26 and I have been thinking about life and death a lot lately. Not because I would commit suicide -- but rather because the very stupifying fact of "I'm alive!" evades most of media and content we consume.

But it has huge implications for us in the very soon battle for understanding if turing-complete high-level-abstracting machines would experience "consciousness" like we do. In terms of medical care, rights, and other aspects for thinking entities.

And Pieter, if you are reading this, I wish you well in whatever lies ahead for your mind, and for your actions which will surely echo through the sands of time for people. Because like you said, even if life is indeed finite -- that we take a sensible approach, our legacy should be able to give us comfort that our actions do get magnified by time -- so do what you love, and it will speak through future generations.

Wow this really hits home. I can only hope that when it's my time that I can go with such class and dignity. My only fear in dying is that I would regret having not lived more, spent more time on things that really matter, or being held back by myself.

I couldn't agree more about euthanasia, I've always envisioned a Dia de los Muertos style party for when I go :). I would much rather go when people have a chance to see me happy and reminiscing like you mention. I would say thank you for your work, but I know there's much more to you than that!

Wow, that hit me harder than expected. It's rare to see someone talking so frankly about death, and even rarer for something like this to be on the front page.

What a legend.

Pieter, in the article you wrote "Think of the Children" and wanted readers to write stories, which is a really nice idea.. How about we think of the children and donate some money? Is it possible to share a donation address/endpoint ?

From another post: Well this is really kind. Yes, I'm pretty broke and have three young children who will be semi orphans. Cue violins. Happy to receive on PayPal at ph@imatix.com. I will give my family the keys to that so they can put it aside for ma wee bairns...


Thank you for the info! But I also think that this will not get a lot of coverage, if I need to learn this address from a comment in HN.. Hope it does somehow..

It is in a comment at the original article.

Well, that's embarrassing - I just started weeping in the office. Probably because my own father has been diagnosed with cancer (in his 90s though, ripe old age) and we are both pretty much following the communication guidelines set out in the article.

Thanks for posting and thanks to Pieter for writing.

This article was really an eye opener for me, especially what not to say to a dying person. We should be careful about that thing.

Some Hintjens' quotes -

i) "One tactic I used was to take the cult techniques and reverse them"

ii) "We create culture by sharing" (extends to a successful project being a culture, a share-alike licence, and a name/domain which of course can be forked)

There are many others - his writing introduced me to Conway's law (was b) - "A software system mimics the structure of the organization that produces it ") - I've only read part of his work, time well spent and good to discuss with programmers and non-programmers - he made me think

Thanks - updated

And this is exactly why euthanasia should be made legal everywhere.

If I ever have to die of some horrible disease I want to go on my terms and do exactly like op.

It would be interesting to see how many of us that has had conversations with Pieter Hintjens. I suspect a sizable chunk of the HN crowd has interacted with him. I've enjoyed his company on many conferences, and while he presents himself in a very direct manner, he is also friendly and enjoyable to talk with.

Funny, that is how I feel about 95% of the thousands of programmers I've talked with over the last years. :)

I'm not sure why, but something makes you stand out. I love that you present without slides, for example, and I can't think of anyone else doing that.

I am a bit saddened I never had the chance. He seems like a great guy.

Knowing how to die is as important as knowing how to live, perhaps more. As he leaves us, he is giving us all an important lesson.

The first time I came across Pieter was when he was interviewed about ZeroMQ on FLOSS weekly. I've come to find his writing to be engaging and informative, and thank him for that.

His series of articles on psychopaths and the havoc they wreak is well worth reading, even if it takes a while to take it all in.

My best lesson I learned on programming from Pieter was to use code generators effectively. The advantages cannot be overstated.

Thank you Pieter, you will be missed.

> My best lesson I learned on programming from Pieter was to use code generators effectively.

Likely among other places, Pieter discusses code generators here: http://download.imatix.com/mop/introduction.html

> Thank you Pieter, you will be missed.

Agreed. I posted my thoughts on his blog, although the hundreds of comments on this page will also stand as a testament to Pieter's work and the lives that he touched.

Been a fan of Pieter Hintjens since 2010 when I found ZeroMQ and read that ZMQ guide which was the most easy to read and fun technical guide that I read ever. I tweeted and he replied back, and I was startstruck by a tech superstar. He was always fun to follow and I remember one of his tweets where he says we don't even need fruit sugar, though I never followed that advice :) As graceful as ever. Godspeed Pieter.

I actually wanted to attend that keynote and now you popup over here. Thought it would be a nice day, some friends / colleagues presenting anyway. Somehow my brain wandered off reading this article thinking what would have happened if you could have presented this blog post as a keynote. How would the audience react, would it differ from this where people have more time to digest it? Definitely some awkward social event afterwards I'd bet.

Only thing I missed in your post is a snappy remark to alternative medicine (not expiremental, mind you); would have made it perfect. That stuff usually conflicts with the actual treatment and even if it doesn't and people survive they say it is because of the alternative junk instead of the actual treatment they conveniently forget to mention they took as well. You know, these sites that claim it's true and proven linking to multiple studies showing it...performed by themselves and published on their own website only.

I wish you the most with the time you have left but have no doubt you will make it count.

Well, one thing left.

This is Bob.

Bob is dying.

Bob doesn't whine or bitch about life being unfair.

Bob is one tough motherf*er.

Be like Bob.




P.s. If you think the stick figure sucks you should see my real drawings.

Hey - it's very respectable to go out with such dignity, but please don't call feeling bad and complaining about it "bitching" or "whining". The experience varies from person to person and it can be utterly terrifying to some. (Unless this is a reference I'm not getting or something, then nevermind)

I completely agree. Didn't think to much about it, indeed an Internet meme. Seems I can't edit my original comment anymore but know that I definitely do not consider people taking another route whiners or bitchers. There is no Wrong way to do it.

I've never known anyone who knew their death was imminent, and it pains me to see cancer strike another beloved member of the tech community, but I am fascinated by how Pieter is handling his situation. Delegating his tasks away, being frank about his condition and its progress, and now this protocol article. Even though his life is being cut way short, it almost seems as if he has extra time to get his ducks in a row and share wisdom. Many others die suddenly or after losing mental faculties and don't quite have the same opportunity.

For those who had the opportunity and pleasure of meeting you personally, the day the news broke out was a black day. You are a person who makes a deep impression, your thoughtfulness and very balanced view and how you articulate them. I now read your writings and find them even more compelling: sharp observation and bravery to spell the truth out.

Death is coming to all of us. We all die. Death of some, however, will be a big loss. You, sir, are among them.

This is his last blog post, but according to Github, he's still actively contributing code and comments as of 7 hours ago:


I must say that the cable joke https://twitter.com/hintjens/status/722315427200765952 was great.

Best thing I ever created with Pieter was stallmanism.com a few years ago. And the beers we drank over the years discussing a wide range of topics while typically being surrounded by people that started to shake heads after a few minutes of listening in. Moments that will survive everything. Thank you, Pieter. Love you.

Love you too, Jan.

I've seen Pieter speak both in person and on video and it's hard not be impressed by his conviction and passion. Clearly a very clever guy with a lot of interesting ideas. Quite a polarizing character by all reports, but one that has made a significant contribution to the open source community nonetheless.

Godspeed Pieter.

One thing that I observed the year I lost two great uncles (one from one side of the family and six months later one from the other) to cancer was how easy it is for the closest family to get very tied up in the logistics and medical side that people weren't really taking as much time to really talk to them. Granted they weren't considered terminal until close to the end.

As the younger nephew, I didn't feel as much responsibility to be involved with the logistics (it felt more awkward to me but I think it was comforting to the children, spouses etc). So instead of joining in on the doctor/prognosis conversations and later the funeral arrangement/what to do with the house stuff, I just sat and talked to my uncles instead.

I had known both of them my entire life but I realized I knew almost nothing about them. All our interactions were just uncle to nephew, family occasions kind of stuff, but by this time I was an adult (just barely), and all the sudden we were just two people talking and I learned more about them in a 20 minute session than the prior 20+ years. Some other family who were on the periphery of the conversation confided later that they regretted not having those moments while they had the chance. I didn't even talk that much, just enough to make it a two way conversation, but I found my uncles both were very at peace but wanted to reminisce and tell stories they probably hadn't told anyone in decades. One uncle told me about joining the military during Korea and having gone through all the training and finally being sent all the way there to have the war end practically the day he got there and he ended up being sent right back and what a strange conflicted experience it was for him.

I've started visiting with my other elderly family a lot more since then and have had some similar conversations that didn't require anyone being terminally ill, but somehow that seems to make those conversations a little easier.

I can definitely agree with the piece, especially about what to say and what not to. I'm not expert by any means, I just did the only thing that felt natural whatsoever: just talk to them like a person and let what happens happen. Granted I had the benefit of the fact that they were well taken care of by their children and others, otherwise it would have been much more difficult.

The level of courage and calmness it takes to write something like so soon after the news he just got. Dude is top fucking percentage.

It's wonderful to see someone approaching death with such a calm and balanced state of mind.

May your wisdom and compassion live on in your children and in all the other people you have influenced.

Tribute to Hintjens' great work and ideas. Man is like the Bernstein of enterprise software with great balance of unconventional design, correctness, performance, and innovation. Here's a list of some of his work for those interested:

A great write-up on his theory of model-driven development and the tech that underpinned most of iMatix:


Their website is a slide-show demonstrating their amazing work:


Generating servers from state machines and such:


SMT kernel for portable, multi-threaded, fast code:


Web server (old and new) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xitami http://xitami.wikidot.com/main:start

One of best middleware ever http://zeromq.org/

No idea how the first link turned into Google nonsense. Here's the MOP link:


Pieter came to work with us on a project in San Francisco and I'm so happy that I could find this post through hacker news so soon after he posted it. I don't know if he will get my email but I'm glad I had a chance to send it.

Another sad day for the software community. I'm a big fan of 0mq and the work that Pieter has done.

As for the euthanasia, my wife's aunt died of cervical cancer and it was very rough, not only on her, but on her entire family. It's not an exaggeration to say that they likely all have PTSD from the experience. I'm not a proponent of euthanasia but I can see the appeal. It probably depends a lot on the individual situation.

Bear in mind, you don't have to be a proponent of something in order to support the right of people to choose it.

Great article, thanks for sharing this. I have a question: how would you tell your so to "move on" after you are gone? Was this even brought up ? I'd imagine this to be a very difficult, yet necessary conversation to have.

I'm... fortunate in that respect.

This is easily one of the most courageous articles I have read. I can only hope to have the same courage when dying. Thanks for inspiring me, Pieter.

Hi Pieter,

I'm not sure how long you'll keep on reading stuff, but rest assured me and many others will cherish the very fond memories of collaborating with you - you've always had a sharp wit and a practical sort of unconventionalism that gets things done. We have much to thank you for.

We worked together on Digistan and the "The Hague Declaration", which I helped host in The Hague - and I think it still is a strong statement that is worth repeating. People can sign that declaration:


I'm very much saddened to hear about your disease - and deep respect for the way you handle this unannounced change of plan. I hope your remaining time will be spent with those you love looking back on a rich life where you've left the world better than it is - and got the max out of it. I'll send you an email, so that when your kids are older and want to know about the things you've done they can contact me. Take care, my friend.

Don't forget to comment on the article as well like he requests at the end.

:-) Thanks.

I didn't know Pieter but contributed to CZMQ which was a excellent example of how C can be well written. ZMQ was like having lego blocks for me had so much fun playing with it, he is a profound thinker.

There are many days I too feel I'm ready to die. But then realize I'm not ready. Couldn't understand why.

Reading what Pieter just wrote makes realize that I lack fortitude in one aspect: compassion. Pieter's words confirms to me that one needs to wield formidable muscles in the compassion department for one to be at peace and be ready to die.

Great man, Pieter.

Pieter, after reading your article I feel connected to you, despite us never having met.

Thank you for everything you've done as a blog writer and as a member of the open source community.

Pretty sobering stuff. I watched my mother die of cancer about a year ago. Sitting next to her, as she moved back and forth in bed, incoherent, was....well...pretty surreal. Honestly, I don't get this world we live in. We pop in from nowhere and then live in fear of popping out in an untimely way. I kinda get where this man is coming from. A lot of cancer therapy just seems like such a long-shot. And it's your life on the line (including your sanity). Bouncing around from doctor to doctor, treatment to treatment is enough to break people. I mean totally break people. Financially and spiritually. It didn't break my Mom. She always had hope actually and never wanted to die. But I think it would break me.

It's strange to see such a protocol, that it was necessary in the first place. I guess people just assumed the wrong things even with their emotional compass as their guide.

Thank you Pieter, you're truly a giver till the last drop, and a model to follow!

Honestly, I didn't write the protocol for my friends and family, who almost all know exactly how to behave. A few percent, maybe, have no clue. But then people reflect Bob's style and I'm a pretty chill guy. I just thought it would be nice to capture the experience for others, for future reference.

I can highly recommend "Culture & Empire - Digital Revolution", a very interesting read.

I think this is a great request: "Find a moment in your own jurisdiction, if it bans euthanasia, to lobby for the right to die in dignity."

A terrible earthquake hit my country last saturday, killing hundreds in seconds. Before, I would have said: at least their death was quick. But now I think like Pieter: the best way to die is when you have enough time to say goodbye, even if that means painful cancer.

Goodbye Pieter, go happy knowing that you've put in your kids much more than DNA, they're set for an awesome journey!

Thank you, Pieter, for your sane approach. The comments here demonstrate aptly the power of your words over the HN community. I lost a father and an in-law to cancer, and your post simply nails the target for me. I wish I'd read this back then.

Then again, as you demonstrate, we need not focus on the things we cannot change. Spending time with regrets is time wasted. Thank you!

Thank you, Pieter. This brings up my 80 year-old father's death by cancer 8 years ago. The end came less than two weeks after the diagnosis, despite the doctor estimating 3-6 months.

Having flown halfway across the USA, I was fortunate to be there for his last two hours, unlike one brother, who arrived a day late. I wish I had come with happy memories to share, but the suddenness and shock of seeing him holding on by a slender thread obliterated such thoughts. I took over for the at-home hospice nurses and ministered care according to his heart and respiratory rates.

My mother had prayed in the next room, "Lord, take this good man," and it was obvious that his end was imminent.

Oddly, my experience felt similar to seeing the Twin Towers burn from a mile across the Hudson River. My eyes were riveted to the inferno until I turned to look away, then magically believed that when I returned my gaze everything would be right and intact.

Dad's eyes never opened, but his expression brightened when I said, "Dad, it's Dave." After hearing my mom's prayer, I busied myself with his nursing care, but was stymied about what to say. I had already told him the most important things on the phone after hearing the news from him that he was dying without regrets. He was lucid and conversant then. Now, he was teetering between states of coma and listening heart.

When my mother stepped into the hallway outside their condo, I counted his respirations – 32 per minute – and gave him a dropper of lorazepam, as directed. I said to him: "I can't ask you to stick around." I wanted him to know it was okay to let go but had no other words to say it. Facially, he shrugged. Thus did he begin his final retreat. I called my oldest brother and his son into the room and we called his name as he drew his last breaths. When Mom returned it was all over.

I still wonder, if I had come with loving memories to share, would he have held on through the night and into the next morning, long enough for his middle son to say goodbye?

It could be my life's project to write about my father, but my life has too much urgency to reflect so long on the past. Maybe things will settle enough for that in the future, but not now.

I am grateful for your valuable experience and will explore your writings. You are helping your family and others with everything you've done. I believe you are having a marvelous adventure.

David Forshtay

The truth, is modern medicine treating about cancer (chemotherapy, immunotherapy, ..) is putting a bandage on a real underneath problem. It will comes again, may be take some years. One of good actor from my place is passed away with cancer few weeks before https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jishnu. He also did chemotherapy few years before.

We should care about these deadly diseases, or DNA mutation, what causing it. Any bug happens, we can resolve it, but losing a person we can't recover.

I am the one of person who also suffering from autoimmune disease.

Sorry for my English.

Maybe his publishers could increase revenue percentages for him from his books sales; I did not even know he was an author, otherwise I would have bought one or two of his books earlier.

The best protocol is to just ignore it. Animals do it, so why shouldn't we?

This approach is also fully compatible with the idea that life itself is a "terminal disease".

From my observations, when put in situations similar to human's, animals don't "ignore" it in the same way as when left to themselves out there in the nature. (Admittedly, my sample size is very small.) We shouldn't ignore it just because of that -- we have relations, something wild animals not always have. This time of life is the last opportunity to tell other people that matter in your life -- and hear from them! -- all those things you always wanted to tell, but couldn't, for lots of stupid reasons. This will urge you independently of how you think about life, terminal disease or greatest gift (something in your message makes me think you are rather young).

I think Peter's protocol is exactly how this needs to be handled.

Code Connected got me interested in programming again.


Pieter, I hope that when the time comes I have the poise and grace to deal with things to as high a standard as you have here.

Thank you.

I can barely understand his condition.. but its good that he has euthanasia as an option. In my country india Article 21 of our constitution says right to life does not include right to die.. although recently passive euthanasia is allowed i think

I have wanted to read up on ZeroMQ. This time I will. It is meaningless in the face of his situation, but I feel like this is how I, as a programmer, can "talk" to him, honor him. I'm not trying to be sentimental but it feels right.

And here's my small tribute: ZeroMQ is good. It's well designed and has unusually good documentation. You'll enjoy reading up on it. It has a quality feel.

Are you getting fully sequenced before you die, so if there are discoveries later, your kids will have a database of you to compare against?

Apparently the cost finally dropped below $1kUSD this year

Hahaha... oh wait, you're serious?

I think, and hope my kids will slowly forget about me except as deep and positive experiences, and it would be narcissistic in the extreme to ask them to carry my DNA around like ashes, just in case.

None of us are that special, me certainly not. Life is for the living, not the dead.

I don't think they're talking about having your kids 3d print a clone of you using your dna, but about having medical info available in case your cancer is hereditary. You seem to be into giving your body to science, so it's not a crazy suggestion.

You're right, and I was wrong. Thanks for the correction.

I 100% am.

I hope you don't mind this sir, but I am going to email you why, since I don't want a long explanation of my medical data on hn alongside feelings about my family.

I still think it is something you should hear before you pass

Thank you for your email, and I realize what you meant now. Sequencing my DNA to protect my children from the risk that my cancer has a genetic basis... very thoughtful.

Yes, I'd do this if I could find a researcher willing to help, and if I thought my disease had a genetic basis. As it is, I've put it down to "dumb bad luck" and there's no sequencing that.

I'll explain: my family has no history of cancer. We tend to die from natural causes, not too late, not too early. I'm unusual. The cancer originally in my bile duct is also extremely rare in Europe and America. Yet it turns out to be a main (if not the main) cause of death among 50+ males in certain east Asian countries.

So it's (almost certainly) a liver fluke carried in raw farmed fish, which is slipping into the global trade as "sea fish" and being used in cheap sushi restaurants. The fluke attaches to the bile duct and produces carcinogens because it likes feeding off the tumors.

The bad news is there are going to be a lot of western men in their 50s who get dramatically bad news out of nowhere, as this parasite must now be lodged in tends of thousands of us. Good news is this killer will finally benefit from some real attention, to the benefit of all.

Interestingly, women are almost entirely unaffected.

So while sequencing my DNA wouldn't help much in my case, there is one message I'd like to send to the world: "Stop eating fish. Fish is shit." One should not be eating wild proteins anyhow. It's unethical IMO.

As someone with the last name of Carp, I agree you shouldn't eat me! :p

(I had to make the joke,sorry)

I want to agree with you about "dumb bad luck." Unfortunately, your description of why turns the science question gears in my head if there is an epigenetic or genetic or a mixture of both (especially since this appears to be X linked? testoterone level linked? something along those lines?) What about maleness matters that leaves women nearly unaffected? Are there certain men more likely to be affected given that sushi has been around for like 30 years in the west, in some places longer, and the rates haven't risen dramatically yet.

And while on the surface it sounds like you have an awesome family tree, many people's families underdiscuss their family health in their family trees (mine is unusual in that we don't). In some cases old documents are misunderstood in terms of cause of death (eg: consumption used to be a thing) I don't know your family dynamics well, especially 5 generations back. Having an actual copy of your DNA in a database (and having a copy of your medical records in a super ideal world in safety deposit box for when they are older for essentially the same reason), basically ensures against questions later.

besides, you also have no idea what good genes/epigenetics that you never got to take advantage of that got passed down. Same probability principles hold, and as overall sequencing costs go down for the general population, there will be research in that area as well, and they might be interested in that as well

And you should really tweet about the fish - I actually didn't know about the parasite :/

Someone has to take the Edgnenet project and move it forward!

What is that?

Something that looks abandoned, but is the most interesting idea ever:

- http://content.cultureandempire.com/appendix1.html

- https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/edgenet#/

In fact, the building blocks for the project are quite active:

- https://github.com/edgenet/drops

- https://github.com/zeromq/zyre (with ports for many languages, such as Go: https://github.com/zeromq/gyre)

I became an admirer of this man's software aesthetic when I first discovered and compiled libero.

In my opinion, this is a great loss to the world of programming.

I lost my dad to cholangiocarcinoma when I was only 7 - rest easy knowing you had a positive impact on the world Pieter.

Death is a horrible fact for a consciousness, however "being angry or sad at facts is a waste of time".

thank you for sharing this; thank you for your extraordinary contribution to the open source community; thank you for writing so candidly and so eloquently about the process of building software; and thank you for making we want to be a better developer.

when you bring life into this world you condemn it to suffering this.


Is suffering all you see in Pieter's post?

Wow. Powerful stuff... Really makes you consider your own mortality.

You can write an exclusive book and pass it on to your children

Pieter, you made the world a better place. Thanks.

It seems against protocol to argue with a dying man, but refraining also seems disrespectful to Pieter. I always open the comment section hoping that someone will disagree with the article in a thoughtful way; perhaps it's my turn, since I disagree so intensely. Presumably others would like to at least hear the counterpoints.

Euthanasia is bad from a practical standpoint, and an evil, because:

1. Objectively speaking, euthanasia is suicide, and the killing of an innocent person. If Schwartz killing himself (out of despair for his future, fear of suffering in prison, or otherwise) was a tragedy, why is Pieter's upcoming suicide not a tragedy? Is it because his certain death is closer? (This view promotes the idea that a "disabled" life, where one is "unhappy", or must be cared for at great expense, or is suffering, or (extrapolating) is cryogenically frozen, is not valuable in and of itself; but it is.)

2. Suicide increases the risk that friends and family will commit suicide. A search will yield numerous studies: "2.1-fold increased risk of committing suicide"[1], etc. If you kill yourself, you are indirectly killing the people closest to you.

3. If you are against the death penalty because we might execute an innocent person, you should be against Euthanasia because we might kill a non-consenting person. This is already the case:

> "these laws and safeguards are regularly ignored and transgressed in all the jurisdictions ... about 900 people annually are administered lethal substances without having given explicit consent, and in one jurisdiction, almost 50% of cases of euthanasia are not reported ... some jurisdictions now extend the practice to newborns, children, and people with dementia. A terminal illness is no longer a prerequisite." [2]

Please, when you hear someone speak in flowery language about the dignity of choosing death, take a moment to evaluate what they are actually suggesting, and to research why people are opposed. Many seem to think that the only people against euthanasia are the religious whose reasoning is roughly "well, my religion randomly chose to mark this as evil, therefore it is", which is just not the case.

[1] http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/articles/relationship-suicid...

[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3070710/

(...finally, this is likely a very poor protocol for dealing with death - people deal in different ways, and not all people will look back fondly on having to smile all the time, or on expressing "false" hope and being told that, actually, objectively speaking, they should not have hope. Also, a totally minor point, but we are not like Lego houses - we do not need to be utterly destroyed for others to live.)

So this is from a personal point of view, my dad choose euthanasia.

1. Yeah it's suicide. When you live in constant pain, lie in bed, get meds that make you hallunicate and have no realistic hope for improvement that seems like a reasonable option.

2. Suicide usually has some form of emotional component in it that is shared in the environment. That's why we call it euthanasia, it's not really comparable other then the very general "choose to end own life"

3. Sure mistakes will be made. One such controversy in the Netherlands was euthanasia on baby's with an open back (not sure about the translation). If they had a lot of pain or not. In general there are some pretty rigorous procedures in place to ensure we learn from mistakes, and making sure it are honest mistakes.

So point of this reply, it's a two way street. If you have seen the suffering in the end stages of life euthanasia is not a bad thing. Are there drawbacks sure, we're talking about ending a life, no matter what you do there's a stigma involved and because actual human beings are involved it will not always go the way it should. At the end of the day, the ideal of someone being able to tell the world enough is enough and empowering them to execute that decision, on certain criteria, is a better world then letting someone die in their own feces hallucinating that worms are digging into their feet due to meds and not being able to move due to advanced parkinson. And yes that's the way my dad was in the end before the docter decided to cooperate with his euthanasia.

Thanks for your response. If I'm reading you right, you seem to be saying for (1) "suicide is better than living like that" - well... yeah, but isn't that always the motive, what's the difference now? And for (2) "sometimes, mistakes are made and people die who shouldn't have" - is that what you also think when it comes to, say, the death penalty?

Sorry about your dad.

Regarding (1), you mentioned in another response the value for human dignity as a reason against euthanasia. But medicine has advanced to the point where we're able to keep a human body alive regardless of whether or not the human person has any sense of dignity. The grandparent comment is an example of such a scenario.

>"suicide is better than living like that" - well... yeah, but isn't that always the motive, what's the difference now?

The difference is that the person and their medical personnel are in agreement that realistically: there is not a reasonable hope that their medical condition(s) may be cured or alleviated, so the overwhelming likelihood is that they are going to die from their medical condition(s), and their experience leading up to their death is going to be agonizing and severely depriving of dignity.

With suicide, a person is choosing to take their own life even though they don't have a medical consensus with a reasonable expectation that they are going to die of any condition (besides old age--which I don't believe is commonly a major factor in suicides and would probably not be acceptable).

So for

> well... yeah, but isn't that always the motive, what's the difference now?

See the reply of djokkataja, it covers it pretty well.

> And for (2) "sometimes, mistakes are made and people die who shouldn't have" - is that what you also think when it comes to, say, the death penalty?

There is a world of difference. Now let me say that we in the Netherlands have no death penalty, but let's take the model in America vs the process of euthanasie in the netherlands.

Deathpenalty -> Subject is not willing, evaluation is done by non trained experts (jury) on issues of law (ie guilty)

Euthanasie -> Subject is willing, evaluation is done by trained experts (at least 2 GP's) on medical issues.

In the deathpenalty scenario the worst you can do is kill someone innocent. In the euthanasie scenario the worst you can do is kill someone with a huge medical condition that for all appearances it seems to be terminal with an unbearable standard of living (ie pain).

Comparing the two is cheap rhetoric as far as I'm concerned.

Why the downvotes?

Talk about flowery language.

1. This is a tragedy of a death of a human being and the loss for a family of a beloved one - all caused by a disease, not by a "suicide".

2. Those statistics are for overall suicides, not medical assisted ones. Even if they were for medical assisted "suicides" you would need to control for other factors.

3. Medical-assisted "suicide" is voluntary, not imposed by a third party. Its people like you, with your extremist ideas, that are imposing something by denying others the right to choose.

4. This is really not the time nor the place to discuss these ideas. Have some respect please.

The article brought up Euthanasia in big letters and promoted it, and many comments here talk about it favorably; it's on-topic. I disagree, and gave reasons. Disagreement is not off-topic, and it's not disrespectful. If I was dying, or knew someone who was (or in this case, heard about someone who was) I wouldn't want people softening up just to please me.

It isn't extremist to say that it's always wrong to kill an innocent person even if that person asks to be killed. When I was a kid watching silly movies, I knew that you could shoot a dying dog, but that it wasn't right to shoot a dying man. This was because humans had a certain dignity that put them above animals, even if they had to suffer for it.

> Imagine you have a box of Lego, and you build a house, and you keep it. And you keep making new houses, and never breaking the old ones. What happens? "The box gets empty, Daddy." Good, yes. And can you make new houses then? "No, not really." So we're like a Lego houses, and when we die our pieces get broken up and put back in the box. We die, and new babies can be born. It is the wheel of life.

I am stealing this.

It might be consoling to some, but it is hardly accurate.

How would you accurately explain death to a toddler? It is a good analogy that takes the toddler's feelings into account. Daddy ran out of Legos but he loves you. Quite beautiful actually.


Our bodies undergo wear-and-tear, like the mailbox we had to fix last week. Only, in the case of our bodies, we don't yet have a way to fix or replace most of our parts. After a while, too many parts get worn down until they are no longer able to continue, and everything about us - the parts that allow us to think, the parts that allow us to feel - just stops.

Sadly, fixing our biology is harder than fixing mailboxes, and while we're learning more and more about how to do it every decade, we won't be able to fix everything for the foreseeable future.


Too accurately:

So why aren't we trying harder to fix it? You see, son, society has been dealing with death for many thousands of years, and people have developed coping mechanisms to deal with its apparent inevitability. The majority of people simply don't think about it. Public figures have even rationalized death as a good thing, and boy have they said the darndest things. For example, I've recently read of someone comparing our bodies to legos in a fixed sandbox - as if people literally need to be disassembled before others can be born - and no one bats an eye! Another person pointed out that scientific progress would be slowed down without the older generation of scientists dying - sure, billions of non-scientists may die every few decades, but hey, science is a bit faster as a result!

The point is, society has created a culture of either ignoring or accepting death, and it shapes the very way we think. Sure, that culture might have been harmless back when we really had no chance of combating problems like old age, but now? The vast majority of researchers, of funders, don't even bother to think about what should be some of the most important problems of our generation. Until we have progressed to the point where it becomes blatantly obvious that the technology to combat old age exists, it is unlikely anyone will even notice it. In other words, we're all screwed and you were born a few hundred years too early.

Ha :/ Too real.

> we're all screwed and you were born a few hundred years too early.

It's not a great option, but cryonics seems way better than nothing. (Under the assumptions that the preservation is reasonably high-quality, the storage facilities stay operational, humanity doesn't destroy itself, and advanced medical technology gets developed; see waitbutwhy.com/2016/03/cryonics.html )

An example of someone who wanted to live a long time but was genuinely screwed and was born a couple hundred years too early:

The rapid Progress true Science now makes, occasions my regretting sometimes that I was born so soon. It is impossible to imagine the Height to which may be carried, in a thousand years, the Power of Man over Matter. We may perhaps learn to deprive large Masses of their Gravity, and give them absolute Levity, for the sake of easy Transport. Agriculture may diminish its Labor and double its Produce; all Diseases may by sure means be prevented or cured, not excepting even that of Old Age, and our Lives lengthened at pleasure even beyond the antediluvian Standard. O that moral Science were in as fair a way of Improvement, that Men would cease to be Wolves to one another, and that human Beings would at length learn what they now improperly call Humanity! -Benjamin Franklin

downvotes? I'm not sure how this rates those. Accuracy isn't really helpful to a five year old who doesn't yet have all the concepts needed. The tooth fairy isn't accurate either. Accuracy will get you an endless cycle of "but why dad?"

> Accuracy will get you an endless cycle of "but why dad?"

So keep answering until you can't, and then say "I don't know". Curiosity is something to be fostered, not shutdown with lies.

Have you had an inconsolable five year old who lost a close relative or even pet? I prefer to use analogies and explanations they can understand and accept to help them understand the reality. It's not the same as presuming they have no concept of death. That's a very long way from shutting them down with lies, avoiding the topic, or "protecting" them from it. It's trying to be age-appropriate. I make no claims to be a perfect parent however.

When they're a little older and have more capacity to understand a fuller, more accurate, discussion is possible.

I lost a brother who has two girls. They were very young when it happened. It was a sudden death. Gone in less than a day. You never get an answer to the why. The Lego analogy works because it tells the child that life ends. It doesn't explain why. Just the fact. And that's ok. Why did my brother die? Everyday I ask myself that very same question and have yet come to an answer. His daughters have asked me why too. I never answer and hug them. Life is but a gift. It's not logical. But makes sense in a way. Worth living and worth dying for.

Only thing I can come up with is to wish everybody health and a long life.

>It doesn't explain why.

The aspect of it that people are objecting to is that it does try to explain why. It says "Your father needs to go back in the box so we can make other people", which simply isn't true.

I do understand that and I'm not making a religious statement. Merely stating facts with Legos. The matter we are made up of are the Legos. We are the sum of the parts. When we die those parts go on to be part of other things. Now why that happens is that science has not yet caught up :)

Obviously you try to explain, but what was objected to above is making excuses for death. Death sucks, and trying to pretend there's some good to balance that out is a lie.

That said, I'm not a parent, and I realise it's easier to be idealistic in theory.

But there _is_ some good to balance death out, it's called life. And the lego analogy captures this idea perfectly and quite appropriately for a 5-year-old.

Actually, all of life is contingent on death, not just the good in it. We sustain ourselves by consuming other dead beings, be it animals, plants, fungi, etc. They themselves lived thanks to the death of other beings and so on.

The lego analogy expresses the fact that we are not different from these other beings, and that we too must die so that life can continue. The death of an individual in this chain is always painful, but as part of the whole, it is just as it should be.

> "It's the circle of life..." - King Mufasa

That's not what I meant. The good in life is not inherently contingent on death.

Louis CK has some insight on kids asking "Why?" http://youtu.be/BJlV49RDlLE

Maybe they want to explain their kids all details of the illness, all details of dying and suffering - maybe they think it's acceptable for toddlers. Or maybe they are just too young/stupid/naive to understand it.

That's called being a responsible parent.

It's either that, or your child's future partner will have to deal with them losing faith in their parents, after so many things they were told turned out to be bullshit said to shut them up.

If you'd resent your parents for explaining death to you when you were five by an analogy without technical accuracy you probably have other issues.

Right. Issues that were caused by people distorting the truth instead of giving it to you straight.

That's not what I meant but I think you know that.

There would be over a hundred billion people today if nobody ever died, and that's only counting the humans. The practical reality of the world since the dawn of life has been that if you want to shake up the genetic Lego box and create new creatures, the old creatures have to die. Eventually.

The analogy is not perfect. To create new Lego creations you have to destroy the old ones first. But analogies are never perfect. They're just a starting point to get a rough understanding.

Does this seem like a desirable state of affairs? I think I'd rather not have anyone die involuntarily. If we put our minds to it, I bet we could figure out how to not have anyone die who didn't want to. There's no physical law that says you can't have billions or trillions of humans live awesome lives for a very long time (though maybe not literally forever).

I think most people, including myself, would like to live forever. Whether achieving that is desirable or not is a larger discussion than I have time for, but I will say that if you take a broader perspective of the self, then death is not quite as sharp and painful as it first appears.

As Peter says, "[my children] will grow up with me in their DNA, on Youtube as endless conference talks, and in writing."

I think there are interesting ideas around seeing individuals as part of a greater whole. Not even in a spiritual sense, but just in a plain biological sense. It's rare to consider things that way, but it makes me feel better about my place in the world.

> I will say that if you take a broader perspective of the self, then death is not quite as sharp and painful as it first appears.

A statement that I agree with, but which is of course meaningless to those who are filled with a total dread of death... Unfortunately this is one of those things that can't really be communicated. "You have to figure it out for yourself", etc...

>filled with a total dread of death

I'm not sure I've successfully communicated my feeling about this. It's less like a total dread of death and more like a total dread of losing life, if that makes any sense.

Do you have any close loved ones---a younger brother, a daughter, a close friend? Anyone for whom you might consider sacrificing yourself; anyone who you believe to be a shining light unto the world. Say that person is eaten by cancer. Once they are dead, they feel no pain; this is clear to me, and is not central in my judgement.

What is central is the lost blossoming of a mind. A rich internal experience, a reflective world with joy, dreams, and curiosity, is not a thing that should be destroyed. A mind that wishes to continue seeing the world and its people, and other minds wishing that mind to continue shining its light, annihilated---don't look away from the pain! If you look away from the pain, you lose your already slim opportunity to fight back.

what? accidents kill people and all living things all the time.

Something else to fix!

The human body has many enviable traits over a machine: self repair, remarkable efficiency, etc etc.

But there's one really awesome aspect of machines we should get to work on: a machine, if broken, will sit indefinitely until repaired.

Imagine! You are rent limb from limb in a horrific accident, your body ... stops. A good Samaritan happens upon it later, stitches it back together, puts in some fresh blood, gives it a bit of a kick-start, and away you go!

Screw cryonics: I want to keep indefinitely at room temperature, with no special (post-mortem) treatment.

Well, yeah :P This is a strong argument for trying to prevent fatal accidents!

I'm not going to remember the exact age, but the actuaries had a look at this question. Even if all medical conditions were treatable and no one ever died from disease, the average age of death due to accident would be somewhere around 400 years.

In what way is it inaccurate? It seems a fairly decent summary of the Carbon cycle.

The inaccuracy is that in reality, the box of Legos is huge and nowhere near running out of bricks. If suddenly all humans on Earth stopped dying, the carbon cycle wouldn't even notice it for centuries or more (the things we'd be doing to control overpopulation are another topic though).

Why are you assuming the analogy is to physical resources instead of "population slots," for lack of a better term? The old have to die for the young to move forward, which is one thing that gives me pause about immortality research.

Because the analogy is about Lego box and making new houses, as opposed to e.g. fitting new houses on a finite Lego base plate[0].

I don't buy the "population slots". 100 years ago, the "population slots" were limited to at most 2 billion, back before Harber-Bosch[1]. There's a lot of space to use - we can live under the sea, we'll finally have an economic reason for that Mars colony. And we can stop making children so much too. Those things are actually easier than beating death, so - with added incentive to actually making them happen - you can expect them coming before people actually get immortal.

[0] - http://www.amazon.com/LEGO-X-Large-Gray-Baseplate-628/dp/B00...

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haber_process

"The old have to die for the young to move forward" - This seems like a baseless assumption. If immortality research succeeds, surely we can also fix the problem of older people being stubborn.

A lot of the stubborness comes from facing death. When you think in terms of forever, it helps you to think a lot bigger than petty personal politics.

Or, at least, it should.

Here we are discussing carbon cycle for a explanation of death to a five year old.

The point is, it doesn't have to be accurate. It just have to make sense to a child.

To put it bluntly, I can think of a number of other cases where

(1) people say things to children because it is more pleasant or convenient, not because it is true, and

(2) these misleading statements have negative effects later.

In this case, it seems potentially worthwhile to keep in view that death is actually not a good thing, and that it would better if there weren't death, and that we want to keep an eye out for opportunities to prevent death. "You do not make peace with darkness!"

I can not understand this approach to parenting. I had the luck of my parents never lying to me to shut me up. Even the "hard topics" of sex were handled properly even before I started asking about it myself.

> (2) these misleading statements have negative effects later.

Yes. And I had to fix that damage in people too. You know, sharing an interesting tidbit of information with a person close to me only for her to suddenly realize it was another thing her father mislead her about. Lying to children is like placing relationship landmines - your kids will step on them many years later and it will damage your relationship with them.

It seems like if every person who has ever lived were still alive today we'd had some issues.

Do you mean because of limited resources like food and space? Sure, but (1) these look like difficult but quite solvable problems (we are engineers, after all) and (2) the alternative is having every person who has ever lived also be dead, which sounds bad to me.

There might be more clever options, like cryopreserve everyone who dies; this does not consume many resources (the only recurring cost is liquid nitrogen, which is pretty cheap). Then we can wait to revive everyone until we have the medicine and the resources to support everyone, avoiding overpopulation.

Well, yes. According to a quick search something like 108 billion people have ever lived (compared to 7 billion who walk the Earth today). That seems like a population that would be pretty hard to keep going without having a few extra Earths.

Besides that, it is immaterial. We are all going to die someday and there is nothing we can do about it. The people seeing cryogenics are largely snake-oil salesmen. I don't believe anybody will ever find immortality (at least not in this life).

>That seems like a population that would be pretty hard to keep going without having a few extra Earths.

Do you think this problem is merely very difficult, or literally impossible to solve (e.g. because of some physical law)? I think that if a bunch of really smart humans tried really hard to solve this problem, and you predicted very very confidently that they would fail, then I would be pretty skeptical of your confidence. Just as an example, you suggest getting some more Earths. Sounds like one solid approach; expand humanity to other planets!

>We are all going to die someday and there is nothing we can do about it. [...] I don't believe anybody will ever find immortality (at least not in this life).

This might literally true, in the sense that we probably can't survive the heat death of the universe in however many bazillions of years. But do you think it is implausible that advanced medical technology could e.g. keep us alive, healthy, and sane for, say, thousands of years? This sounds both plausible and quite desirable to me, and I'm confused by your statements---for instance, I can't tell whether you are making a factual claim or an aesthetic claim.

>The people seeing cryogenics are largely snake-oil salesmen.

Eh? They seem pretty sincere; the people who run these organizations (Cryonics Institute, Alcor) are generally themselves signed up for cryonics, and speak passionately about life extension as a desirable goal. Cryonics is not exactly a get-rich-quick scheme.

Yes, I think it is extremely unlikely people will figure out thousand-year lifespans. I suppose perhaps we could somehow colonize other planets but I don't see any progress or even interest in progress there right now. As for cryogenics, check this out: http://thebaffler.com/salvos/everybody-freeze-pein

>Yes, I think it is extremely unlikely people will figure out thousand-year lifespans.

Why? Do you think this would withstand a thousand years of human ingenuity? I'm confused where you're getting this very confident prediction.

It also still seems to me that long lifespans are extremely desirable, albeit difficult to obtain, and I'm not sure whether you agree. This is relevant because if we want to decide e.g. where to put research effort, it's useful to know what we want.

The article you linked is kind of long, and looks like it mainly consists of sneering at various people; could you point to the part that's relevant? All I saw was some stuff about Alcor messing up a preservation, which is pretty unfortunate, but not really strong evidence that they have bad motivations.

I can't know what anyone's motivations are, but I can feel pretty confident that they are selling false hope based on bogus science.

This is genuinely not obvious to me. What convinced you of this? Or, what do you think the world would look like if there were people who actually had a strong, reasonable, non-insane suspicion that they could do the things that cryonics people claim to be able to? To me, it looks like we are living in that world. Have you e.g. looked through the information, studies, and arguments on the Alcor website?

Well, you don't want to read the article I linked. Why would I want to read a bunch of studies published by someone with an obvious vested interest in convincing me cryogenics is not nonsense?

If they were still healthy and capable of work, they could help to solve those issues.

If you gave modern-age people a choice: to live a short life or live a long life while limiting their rate of childbirth (or ceasing reproduction altogether), I think many would choose the former. Having a choice is always better than having none.

Also note that your current (probably?) western lifestyle puts several times more load on the environment than mine 3rd world-like one. It is the wasteful lifestyle choices made by living people that are really a problem, not the quantity of people in itself.

Well, yes, but even if everyone lived a third-world lifestyle I don't think we could realistically support 108 billion people today.

We don't have to, these (108-7) billions of people will (sadly) never ever come back. We have just 7.3 bln people and a planet with more than enough resources to sustain them and then some more (I could give some practical computations regarding the limits to growth, but I won't waste our time doing that here). So your whole argument about all people that have ever lived is basically a strawman.

Well, how long do we expect the post-death utopia to last?

I really don't think you can state as an absolute truth that death is bad and we would be better off if no one died. That may be your view, but this is a massively complex philosophical question for which I get the impression you have too hastily answered.

>we would be better off if no one died

(Clarification: I think we'd obviously be better off if no one involuntarily died.)

I don't think I've been hasty in my thinking. What is the most central concern that you have about life as a good thing?

There are deep unsolved problems around long life. E.g., how do you grow as a mind that has existed for 4,000 years? A normal human mind would probably not be able to handle this, so we'd need some way to expand without losing the parts of ourselves that we value. Similarly, I don't know how to grow as a community of huge, ancient minds.

But, as the saying goes, those are very difficult problems, and I intend to work on solving them for as many centuries as it takes! Of course I can't literally claim to possess an absolute truth, but I think there is a very strong argument---or rather, I think most people would simply agree if they thought longer and more sanely about the question---that life can be awesome given some work, and it is precious, and we don't want to just give up on our vast adventure because, like, medicine is hard to figure out, or cryonics seems like something weird people do, or whatever.

I'm struggling to think of how to reply. This topic is both hard if not impossible to grapple and fascinating to think about. I keep going off into mental tangents about our place (and insignifigance) in the incomprehensibly huge cosmos and how you can so easily say that we humans, who have been dieing along with every other living thing for all of our collective existence, that somehow we should strive to eradicate death and live for thousands of years, much less eternity.

I don't know if hasty was the right word; I don't mean to just dismiss what you're saying. Clearly you've considered this at length.

I cannot easily accept that perpetual life is a good thing and death is something which should be avoided (obviously, in a grander sense). I don't have a concern about life as a good thing in the same way I don't have a concern about death being a bad thing. Life and death are complementary. I can't fathom anything else.

>Life and death are complementary

Hm, I hear people say this a lot, but I genuinely can't empathize with where they are coming from. This is a blank spot in my map. Could you say more about the intuition behind this statement, and why this makes death seems desirable or less bad?

To illustrate how I emotionally parse the statement "Life and death are complementary", I want to make a possibly distressing analogy, so apologies in advance, and:




TRIGGER WARNING: abstract discussion of rape



That statement reads to me like:

"Being raped and not being raped are complementary. Members of higher animal species rape each other in the natural course of life, and humans have committed rape throughout history. Rape is a part of nature, so it is foolish to think that we humans could or should eliminate rape forever."

This is an obviously abhorrent position, and I genuinely don't see much of a difference talking about death instead. Clearly horrible thing is clearly horrible.

Again, I am absolutely not trying to imply you are evil, or thinking inside my head that you are evil, or anything remotely like that; I am just trying to convey how I kneejerk-emotionally react to your statement about life and death, in case it helps you say things to me that will cause me to understand where you are coming from.

Your analogy fails because death is not something which is necessarily a conscious action taken by one against another. If we were discussing why murder was good and complementary to life then it is more applicable, but we're not.

Your inability to parse why I see life and death existing in a sort of balance is similar to my inability to have the same clarity that you do that death is inherently bad and should be eliminated. It's certainly something I'm going to think about.

Death is just another part of life. It's going to get you eventually.


Personally, I really like living, mainly because there's a lot of awesome stuff to do and see and build, stories to tell, people to be with, etc. The logical next step is that I don't want to die, at least any time soon or involuntarily. Avoiding death may be difficult, but it seems rather sad to just give up; and anyway, say what you will about humans, but we are pretty goddamn clever occasionally.

So it seems quite worth it to fight death. I don't know if avoiding involuntary death should seem so implausible---humans are machines that can be fixed when they start breaking; that's how ordinary medicine works! I think it would actually be surprising if we could extend lifespans from 30 years all the way up to 100+ years, but couldn't possibly go much further, even given massive future advances in our understanding of biology, neurology, and technology.

Except we're not machines. "You're the same decaying organic matter as everything else," as Tyler Durden would say.

Some might say the next logical step isn't to wish to live forever, but to die, and hope your genes and ideas live on. We're not the eternal ones in this universe, no matter how big our capacity to wish for that.

>Except we're not machines.

I only mean that we're machines enough so that medical techniques work. We are made of parts that break and can be fixed. This is on extremely solid empirical footing.

>Some might say the next logical step isn't to wish to live forever, but to die, and hope your genes and ideas live on. We're not the eternal ones in this universe, no matter how big our capacity to wish for that.

Do you say that? I wish to live a very long time, and I wish the same for my loved ones and anyone who wants. I would keep wishing this even if it were an impossible wish. Also, it happens to probably not be impossible.

Death is not a part of life, it is its destruction.

That it is currently inevitable does not mean it doesn't suck, or that we shouldn't try to change that.

>Death is not a part of life, it is its destruction.

Life and death are part of the same simultaneous process. For a living thing to grow, it must die at the same time. Death is life's change agent.

"Controlled death of cells is as much a part of embryonal development as is cell proliferation and differentiation."


But, do you agree that the part where the whole human mind (not just some cells) has to die---a soul annihilated permanently---is not really a good thing, even if it happens to be the state we find nature in?

Not necessarily. The "whole human mind" and the "soul" are very metaphysical concepts so it's tough to say.

In my estimation, the "whole human mind" or "soul" of a person is not annihilated when someone dies. Our minds are an amorphous network constantly in intercourse with and dependent upon eachother.

When a loved one dies, all of the love they gave and words they said exist in some form or another within us, within our hearts and minds which we then pass on to others in turn.

Picture a field full of one type of flowers. If that one type of flowers grows old but never dies, soon enough there is no room for newer or better flowers to grow and evolve.

So as old minds pass away, new minds are born which draw upon the old minds' knowledge but also build upon that knowledge with newer and better ideas.

Alan Watts - Acceptance of Death


“I don't want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don't want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen; I want to live on in my apartment.” --Woody Allen

Some small parts of a person can be transmitted to the outside world, but this leaves out the vast, rich internal world each mind carries with it. If I picture a loved one dying, I feel pretty concerned with the part where they don't keep being alive, keep pursuing their goals and having rich experiences and exploring and loving and being loved and creating and etc. How does this compare with your thoughts?

This may be painful to think about in detail. But I think it is actually important to think about anyway, because there are actual important decisions we have to make (whether to do research in to life extension, whether to sign up for cryonics, etc.), and we seem to be making the wrong decisions when we don't have everything in view; including the most painful parts, which happen to be the most important!

I'm also pretty confused why people bring up supposed benefits of society; to be frank, it sounds to me like people are suggesting "we should kill (let die) all the old and sick people to free up floor space" or "we should kill (let die) all the old and sick people so we don't have to spend any time dealing with their backwards ideas".

>When a loved one dies, all of the love they gave and words they said exist in some form or another within us

Yes, but all of that would still exist if they didn't die, so it's irrelevant.

>Acceptance of Death

There's a difference between coming to terms with the likelihood of ones death, and thinking it's a good thing.

Death is a horrible thing that we should seek to prevent if at all possible.

It's absolutely a good thing. We need some of our cells to die as our tissues develop, society needs people to die in order to develop. A society without death would be a stagnant hell.

Would it? Perhaps we wouldn't be so cagey around racist grandparents (or their equivalent) if they weren't going to die soon.

I think it's an incredibly pessimistic view of humanity to suggest social change can only come about through death.

Moreover, I think this argument tends to come solely from people trying to excuse death, rather than any kind of reasonable analysis.

The problem is that in a world without aging and natural death, your racist great-great-grandparents have (effectively) all of the resources and power, and therefore no reason to listen to you at all.

Yes, this is a pessimistic viewpoint, but I think it's also a realistic one.

But we're not talking about cell death. We're talking about the death of sentient entities.

Define sentient entities

Do you think there's a point to be made in the detail of the distinction?

My point is that death sucks, and when I say that, I'm talking about children crying because they can't see granny any more. Talking about cell death is a distraction.

Those crying children couldn't exist if their grandparents and their grandparents down the line never died. There wouldn't be enough food or resources to sustain indefinite existence for everyone who wants it.


That just means food production is a problem we need to solve in order to prevent people dying. It doesn't mean the death itself is a good thing.

And if food consumption truly became limiting, would you prefer a society that kills people at a certain age, or one that limits the birth rate?

>would you prefer a society that kills people at a certain age, or one that limits the birth rate?

Neither. I'd prefer one smart enough to understand the demographic economic paradox and successfully raise the standard of living so that the problem of overpopulation solves itself naturally.


Well yes, obviously you'd try to reduce the birth rate nicely first, and maybe that's a complete solution (to a problem you suggested), but that doesn't answer the question.

I'm asking what you do if population growth starts to outpace food production despite your best efforts? Do you start killing old people, or do you stop letting people have babies?

It's an explanation of conservation of mass. Maybe not the only reason we die, but if no one ever did die, we'd eventually run into problems, er, assembling the next generation. In fact all you need to assume in order to run up against these problems is that population growth continues.

The earth's population has skyrocketed recently. Global poverty is down over the same time. There might be such a limit somewhere, but we're not close enough to it that we have to maintain an equilibrium in births and deaths!

Uh, there's a whole lot of mass in the universe; this isn't really a limiting factor, and won't be for quite a long time.

> I am stealing this.

You shouldn't. I have seen this ideology come up on HN a lot (strangely almost never anywhere else), as an argument against human life extension. If this is your ideology, it's of course not productive to argue against it, but if your mind isn't made up yet, allow me to very briefly present some bullet point-like counter arguments:

Returning a couple of kilograms of mostly-carbon to the environmental cycle isn't critically important to nature. In the grand scheme of things, never breaking the old legos is probably not a net loss in a universe filled to the brim with more lego bricks. It's hard to make a compelling argument that our mental or cultural landscape would improve if this specific person was removed. Individual minds do have an intrinsic value that is lost when death happens, with little-to-no balancing benefit on the other side.

If your primary motivation for a "death is good" paradigm comes from the perception that it's the only antidote to overpopulation, there is even more to talk about than would be prudent in this thread, but suffice it to say that over-procreation is due to a faulty feedback loop, and not an inevitable fact of human existence.

Of course, you may - and probably do - disagree with this opinion, but it's at least something to consider.

My primary motivation is to explain death at a four-year-old's level.

I know, but I worry about giving children misleading information. Especially given the possibility that they might grow into a world where radical life extension may become available for the first time, I believe we shouldn't give them our thousands-year-old mantra of "dead is good" with all the fantasies and rationalisations that entails.

In my experience, children want to know very specific things about death, and I think we can answer them more truthfully and let them make up their own minds about the other things as they grow older. They usually want to know two things: why we die and what death will feel like for a person, which are totally reasonable questions.

The why can be answered by explaining that all things break, and when living beings break, they are no longer alive.

When my nephew recently asked what it's like being dead, I said to him for the people who died it's exactly like the time before they were born. That seemed to satisfy his concerns, and I hope this way of thinking will spare him the literal nightmares I had about death when I was 4, where people had told me I would spend eternity somewhere without a body.

What's so horrible about confessing to your kid that you don't have all the answers?

This is the most altruistic, caring piece of communicating I have ever read.

I don't know this man, but I love him. I will remember this to my own demise.

I will look for a political group that is for a humane way of dying, and ask what needs to be done.

My father died in extreme pain. For three days he was in hell. His last words he spoke to me, "when will it end?". I didn't have an answer. My father's death kinda ruined my life. Even though we had our differences; every day since that day in January, 11 years ago, I think about how he suffered, and part of me died with him.

It's easy to love a person who will never turn up on your doorstep with a dog and a bottle of whiskey and ask to sleep on your couch for a week. :)

I think euthanasia rights are worth fighting for. People will argue that it's a "death panel". Show them my article.

As an Eastern Orthodox Christian, euthanasia would not be an option to me, but I really hope I'd never have to think about it as a choice. I had an early stage melanoma in 2004 and I know I "beat it", but I also know it's all a matter of time and I made some important lifestyle changes and most importantly - switching to a ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting. (Well, also as an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I'm currently undergoing Great Lent, and I know for a fact that carbs are terrible in the long run.)

It's so pathetic that we as a society waste so much time and energy on non-essential stuff instead of curing major killers. Yes, cancer is a hard one to beat (each cancer being different, too), but we've done even more complex things as humanity. I really don't think curing major diseases has ever been a top priority of our society! I hope one day soon people finally realize that diseases are not what other people get (the arrogance of the healthy), but what we all will eventually!

I'm really curious, what makes you choose and follow rules that other people set up (i.e. whatever part of being an Eastern Orthodox Christian forbids euthanasia), instead of making choices yourself, whatever you believe is the best for your life? Even if you agree with most of what your religion prescribes or suggests, couldn't you just pick and choose the parts that you like and that influence your life positively, and throw away the rest?

I'm hesitant to answer for nikolay, but my guess is that he has indeed made such choices -- one of them being to live according to the doctrines prescribed by his religion.

Rigidly adhering to dogma is something that many people take pride in. When done consciously, it's not blind obedience; it's a sort of trust in the groundwork that has been laid by your ancestors.

In other words, to simply "pick and choose" would denigrate the tradition that nikolay has decided to uphold. For some people, death is preferable to the dissolution of one's identity.

> In other words, to simply "pick and choose" would denigrate the tradition that nikolay has decided to uphold.

I guess what I'm missing here, is how does one come to such a decision. After all, the "tradition" is just an arbitrary set of rules that was made up by someone sometime in the past. I mean, even the name "Eastern Orthodox Christian" reveals that it's a refinement of Christianity, which is itself a refinement of Judaism, which is itself probably a refinement of something else that just wasn't written down. And all refinements keep changing; e.g. Jews shouldn't use "fire" on Sabbath (originally, AFAIK), but they adapted that to modern times to include "electricity" as well.

So my question (or failure to understand) is exactly this conscious choice - what makes one consciously decide that a set of rules made up by someone else, which may or may not still be relevant, is the best way to conduct one's life? I guess uprbringing has a lot to do with this - religious people rarely go window-shopping to see which religion is "the best" - but IMO the idea of growing up is that you make independent decisions about your life (which ideally includes learning from others - adopting other people's rules - and learning from experience - changing your rules), possibly contrary to what your parents though and taught you were the best choices.

Edit: also, I would like to point out that I see the following as distinct choices that one can make more-or-less independently: belief (into the general framework your religion describes, e.g. how the world was created), obedience/following (of religious rules, e.g. Muslims shouldn't eat pork), and belonging to community (e.g. you might not eat pork just because you don't want to be excluded from the Jewish community).

There's no such thing as "faith" as separate to "knowing something is true". Many people who even call themselves religious miss that. If you really believe that the doctrines of your faith are God's prescriptions (and there are ways to make that as a logical inference of some basic axioms within the system of a religion), then it's not "arbitrary set of rules" - it's the set of rules God wants you to follow. That's how actual faith works.

(Speaking from experience; I used to be a true believer.)

Well, do they "not understand it" or do they just have a different way of being religious?

That "different way of being religious" is stretching the meaning of the word "religious" quite a lot. Kind of like calling yourself a 2nd-level vegetarian - "cows eat grass, I eat cows...".

I don't know; a lot of churches emphasize the role of reason in interpreting doctrines and scripture and I don't think they should all be considered false churches for failing to just unswervingly adhere to whatever is handed down without consideration for what has changed since it was written.

> what makes one consciously decide that a set of rules made up by someone else, which may or may not still be relevant, is the best way to conduct one's life?

That may not be the best. But good enough given the circumstances (time, community, energy, freedom, incentives, capacity, will, goals)?

Analogy: what makes you decide that using a fork is (not) the best way to eat some sorts of food? What makes you decide that a pair of trousers is (not) the most appropriate dress for a person? What makes you decide that nudity is (not) appropriate in a given context?

That's a piece of practical, ornemental, societal, cultural refinements made by a set of people, over centuries. And it IS practical/ornemental/societal/cultural. But what if there was an other, universal, better way? What if not? Or what if, but not (yet) in our reach?

This is exactly the point - I use forks because I was brought up that way, but I am open to the possibility that they're not the best, and in fact, I'm actively experimenting (in many areas of my life) to find "better" ways.

I don't think Orthodox Christians see their traditions as "an arbitrary set of rules made up by someone" so much as a way of living prescribed by God himself through his emissaries on Earth (well, at least I'd figure many of them do hold this view).

I think there are a few things going on here. First, while there's a great variety in the outward practices of many non-Protestant Christian Churches (e.g., the Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Coptic Christian, etc.), theologically the differences are actually fairly minor, and many of them are in communion with one another. So, for instance, the fact that the Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches are in communion with each other (or the Roman Catholic and Byzantine Catholic) means that both accept that the other is a valid expression of the Christian faith.

Now, of course, if you visit a Roman Catholic mass and a Byzantine Catholic liturgy, many aspects will be different (although there will also be many similarities). The churches will celebrate different feast days, they will fast on different days and in different manners, there will be different saints venerated, etc.

So does this mean that these traditions are arbitrary? I don't think so. How and when one fasts will vary, but the fact that one should fast does not. And the dates of a fast are not picked randomly --- in fact, if you look at any tradition of any of these churches, you will find very deep reasons for that particular tradition. It's just that there's not one right answer, so different churches have evolved their own unique answers (and in doing so, have emphasized slightly different aspects of the underlying theological truths).

So then why shouldn't a Roman Catholic like myself try out all the different churches until I find one that I like the best for myself? Living in a multicultural country like the United States, this part is harder to convey. But there is, I think, a great value in living in a society that practices its religion in a similar way. As an analogy, I could just decide that I would rather celebrate Thanksgiving on May 21 every year. But there's some value in living in a society where everyone, collectively, celebrates Thanksgiving on the same day so that families can get together and we can watch football and eat turkey. So while I could come up with my own way of practicing Christianity that would, in some sense, be valid, there is enormous value in accepting the traditions of my community that have evolved over centuries.

This all gets to a larger point in the Orthodox and Catholic faiths about hubris and respect for tradition. The idea is that, in general, practices don't stick around for centuries unless there's a good reason for it. You or I might not immediately understand what that reason is, but that doesn't mean that there isn't one. Moreover, and this is in contrast to many Protestant faiths, there is an idea in Catholicism and Orthodoxy that many truths come to us through Tradition rather than through Scripture. That is, Christ taught certain things to his Apostles, who taught them to the earliest Christians, who continued to pass them down the centuries. Some of these things were written down in Scripture, but not all. So, for instance, you won't find a passage in the Bible that forbids bishops from being married. But no Catholic or Orthodox bishops are married because this is a part of our tradition. But respect for tradition doesn't mean that the tradition is static. It just means that it changes only gradually and deliberately.

I've seen orthodox religious people get into serious psychological problems after someone they loved died prematurely and unexpectedly. When you really believe that God has its hand in everything, death of a loved one is a hard thing to swallow: it must be some punishment or lesson, but why?

Orthodox christian religion is i.m.o. not helpful at all when coping with death.

Christianity has never been about not suffering. Many early disciples had painful endings to their lives and went through many hardships. God was with them in their pain, not their ticket to a problem-free life, on their journey to heaven where "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more" [Revelation 21:4].

One women I know that was sick in cancer said it like this to a friend of mine: I have been with him [Jesus] too long to leave Him now.

Your god is good, powerful, and all-seeing: pick two.

So if a parent does something their child doesn't like, but for a good reason, they must be one of 1) a bad parent, 2) incapable of doing anything better, or 3) unaware that the child won't like it?

Given a deity and an afterlife, I don't think that argument holds up. Generally the idea of God is that they understand a lot more than humans do or can. (Whether that's true or not is a different question, of course.)

Most people grieve after someone dies. Some have a harder time than others. Being religious or not has hardly to do with it.

Being Christian has nothing to do with either believing that God has its hand in everything that governs your one personal life, or that it will actively intervene in a perceptible way, either believing that death is a punishment or a lesson or easy stuff or anything of this sort.

Although one may always add such opinions, or bigotry, to any kind of faith (be it Christian or not).

I mean, you may believe in God, or not, that won't stop the world. That won't make life different than what it is: you live, you die, shit happens, for some reason, or just because of no reason particular to you.

The core of being Christian is believing in the Credo (which is sort of crazy, indeed, and that's totally accepted) and following Jesus way (and even Brian's one - you know: always look at the bright side of life) and spirit. Which requires some sort of introspection, observation, patience, love, etc. Not to say it's easy either.

Then you add what tradition (catholic, eastern, orthodox, protestant, or so many others) you're in, or you've chosen.

What you believe is one thing. That should logically not prevent you from living and seeking.

(Catholic writing here)

There's no such thing as a half-Christian - you either accept it all or none; there's no cherry-picking. A suicide of any form is a sin - among Catholics as well and in some other religions, too. People had been terminally ill in the past as well, but there's always a chance - even a minuscule one.

>There's no such thing as a half-Christian

There's a massive variation in belief and practices amongst people who call themselves Christian. And I don't recall Jesus saying that you shouldn't do euthanasia for terminal cancer. He was generally a caring guy. Most of the anti stuff comes from right wing nutters born long after Jesus's death who I'd be happy to disregard.

>I don't recall Jesus saying that you shouldn't do euthanasia for terminal cancer

Jesus didn't speak about how to reply to comments on Hacker News either, but that doesn't mean that Christians are given no insight on how he or she should conduct himself or herself here.

>Most of the anti stuff comes from right wing nutters

I do hope you will evaluate this opinion more critically. I mean, I'm pretty sure Aquinas was against euthanasia, and that would have been well in line with the Judeo-Christian views on the issue throughout history.

"Throughout history" is such a funny phase. Imagine if Christians are around in another 2000 years and look back and say, "Well in the early years, for a few thousand years, Christians thought this but gradually it changed to this". Their opinion of X might be a bit difficult.

Actually I suspect that there were a few changes in the the first first centuries AD that make the 'averaging' of history quite an interesting topic.

Well, was he? That's a slightly complicated question. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_double_effect

"there's no cherry-picking"

What about all the other different branches of Christianity then? Catholicism, anglicans? adventists etc

Are they not Christian?

Catholic here so I have the same position on euthanasia. The thing is, there is an alternative: good palliative care, which revolves around good pain management and promoting the best quality of life in the end days. The US hasn't been very good at that type of care but there are some improvements, and more and more are getting into it.

The irony, is that sometimes, someone in palliative care might live longer than someone being actively treated. Here[1] is an extreme example. Less extreme examples ocurr every day as people undergo tests and treatments which end up precipitating the general condition of the person. 70 years old and heart arteries fully blocked and only auxiliary perfusion? DON'T go get a stress test, you already know the outcome and no significant difference will be occur in treatment.

Ask any health professional how they want to die, and almost none of them will want to "do everything possible to treat". They've seen it and it sucks: doing chest compressions, thus breaking ribs of frail elders, all because their children refuse to see them let go; seeing people with tubes up every orifice and yet still in pain, away from loved ones and surrounded by strangers… no thanks!

Public Service Announcement: if you don't have any yet, make some Adcanced Directives to document what should be done to you should you become incapacitated. You can always revise them on a yearly basis.

St Robert Bellarmine wrote "The Art of Dying Well"; for non-Catholics there are other similar writings about how to live a full life without pretending that death will never happen.

[1] A terminal phase Greek cancer patient leaves NY to die in peace in his Greek island and outlives all his doctors. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/28/magazine/the-island-where-...

"It's so pathetic that we as a society waste so much time and energy on non-essential stuff instead of curing major killers"

Non-essential stuff like what? Fast Cars? Games? Music? You tube? maybe Religion?

Imagine all the money/smart people that are currently involved in religions because of some random reason and could be working on meaningful things... The Catholic church alone could pay for cancer research for a 100 years.

My point is what is essential to you, is not for me.

> It's so pathetic that we as a society waste so much time and energy on non-essential stuff instead of curing major killers.

It's just as important to live as it is to not die.

"As an Eastern Orthodox Christian, euthanasia would not be an option to me,"


Taking your own life is seen as a mortal sin by most Christian traditions, mortal sin as in there is no forgiveness for this and you go straight to Hell. Not sure about other traditions but in the case of Orthodox and Catholic Church you are, for example, forbidden to be buried in sacred ground if you take your own life.

If you are curious you should read a bit about the history of Christianity, e.g. a Eastern Orthodox Christianity tends to be more entrenched in tradition than modern Catholic Christianity. You don't have to be a believer to read about history.

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