On Valuing Life and Death

Sir Edward Downes, the well-known British conductor, and his wife Joan flew to Switzerland recently, registered at an assisted suicide clinic, paid the $6,000 and some fee, drank a white liquid and died. Joan was 74 and had terminal cancer. He was 85 with failing eye sight and hearing and though he had no terminal illness was soon to be a widower after over 50 happy married years. His children approved and are willing to serve prison time if necessary, his friends and colleagues call the act brave. Some, however, are troubled that it should be so easy for a non-terminally ill person to commit suicide and are asking for some kind of restraint.
In Spain meanwhile the oldest woman known to have given birth through in vitro fertilization died at age 69 leaving two toddlers behind. She had flown to a Southern California clinic, lied about her age in order to fit within the cut-off date of 55, even though at the time she was 66 and believed that like her mother who died at 101, so would she. Her case, so far at least, has minimally renewed calls for further restraining the age limit of the procedure.
Sir Edward knew what he was doing. He had done what he was to do with his life, he was increasingly no longer able to function as before, faced a lonely old age fraught with disabilities. Was the Spanish woman as clear headed? She doesn’t appear to have made provisions for her children should something happen to her—her brother reportedly sold her story to an entertainment company in order to raise money to care for them.
There’s something to be said for someone like Sir Edward, who isn’t afraid to die, chooses to do it on his own terms, and ostensibly knew the difference between himself and a depressed 30 year-old committing suicide. What is there to say for someone like the Spanish woman who wanted children no matter what and was proud of herself for having succeeded regardless of the consequences to other human beings?
We live in a culture where death is so little understood, our ignorance faults our understanding of life and as these cases show, we get easily confused about when to value them.