Who really wants to live forever?

It seems that cancer has become the subject of controversy once again, as the new year has opened to cries of outrage on Twitter (which by now must be home to so many self-satisfied morons that I’ve practically lost count). The fire was stoked by Dr. Richard Smith’s controversial statement that death from cancer is “the best way to die”, which has provoked outrage from many who feel that Dr. Smith’s statement might have been insensitive to cancer survivors, or their relatives.

While I think Dr. Smith may have brought it on himself, I also think that it’s painfully obvious that many people might have misread his words, focusing only on the part that said “best way to die”. Indeed, newspapers were quick to sensationalize the whole thing, taking Dr. Smith’s words out of context. Even the Daily Mail used a picture that might make him look like a bit of a shady character.

dr. richard smith bmj

Or at least it would if you crop it down to the face.

Having read Dr. Smith’s words exactly, I can honestly say that his central argument was that cancer allowed people to think about their lives, say their final goodbyes, and take care of some unfinished business, and therefore might be preferable to a sudden death, which he argued might cause a lot more trouble for loved ones. Of course, an army of cacophonous bellyachers didn’t see that, and chose to pollute Twitter with bitter hate comments just because he wasn’t the kind of scientist they like – a scientist who gives out false hope in exchange for your generous donations.

My Dad once told me that cancer is nature’s way of controlling the human population so that we don’t overrun the planet. Obviously that’s not a popular opinion, but he’s entitled to it, and I can’t help but think he had a point. The circle of life cannot work without death, and now that I think about it, I would rather die slowly, with plenty of time to think about my life and take care of some unfinished business, rather than die quickly and in the hands of doctors, and therefore unable to tie up all the loose ends in my life before I go.

In my opinion, the biggest reason cancer is public enemy #1 is because people want to think they’re in control of nature. The harsh reality is that there are some things we cannot control, and cancer is one of them. All we can do is reduce the damage it can do, or the likelihood of it happening. The healthiest of us could be the least likely of us to have cancer, but all that can be thrown out the window if you’re unlucky enough to encounter a random genetic mutation.

My argument is simple, but difficult. If you’re faced with an inevitable demise, how would you rather go – quickly, but with unfinished business, or slowly, with careful reflection? After all, who really wants to live forever anyway? I realize that this is a sensitive issue for many people, but mankind has never progressed without facing the most challenging of issues head on.


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