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.

When their execution date finally comes, they watch the hourglass of time, the minutes trickling down like sand until only a few grains remain. How do they want to be remembered, in the traditional last statement they will be allowed to make? Will they try to impart words of wisdom to loved ones, will they make one last proclamation of innocence, will they protest in bitterness, will they express remorse, will they be abject or defiant? Some may ramble on for minutes (there are inmates whose last statements have been forcibly stopped), while others simply stare in stony silence, refusing one last time to play the man’s game.

What do they say, given this last precious opportunity? Think about it. What would you say, if you knew that five minutes from now, lethal chemicals would be injected into your bloodstream, and your voice would be forever silenced? What final message would you leave behind? Here is what some executed persons, from long ago up until the present, chose to say with their last words:

“That is false. I have always served my king loyally and sought to add to his domains.”