Have you ever given any thought to what you would say if you were asked to make a final statement before death? Most of us will never be in a position to make a rational, complete last statement that others will remember us by. If we leave any last words, it is an epitath our survivors choose for our tombstone.
For almost all of humanity, death is unpredictable and not a time for speechmaking. Death comes for us when we are old, and sick, and incapacitated physically and mentally, or it comes with the suddenness of a stroke or heart attack. Or it comes unnaturally with the unanticipated accident or homicidal attack. What were their last thoughts, we might wonder? What message would they leave us?
About the only two categories of persons about to die who are in a position to tell us exactly what is on their mind are those persons committing suicide and those whom the state has decided to kill. When a person commits suicide, we look for a note of explanation. Sometimes a note is found, sometimes not. Sometimes it makes sense, as when a person rationally ticks off all the aspects of his life that have gone wrong, leaving him no other choice; often it does not, when the suicide’s problems seem to be more in his own mind, or no worse than those of the people reading the note. Was this it, you wonder?
The suicide chooses to end his life, but his act is typically spontaneous, a response to specific circumstances within a state of despair, and often surprising. The deaths of persons executed by the state are very different. As Albert Camus has discussed so precisely in “Reflections on the Guillotine,” capital punishment is the moral equivalent of the most premeditated of murders–a killing in which the victim is given a date upon which a horrible death will be deliberately inflicted upon him, and then confined at the mercy of the state, under the most restrictive conditions, until that date arrives.