OPINION: Whenever you see the word ''rational'' it's a safe bet that something isn't. I read, then, a report involving Britain's Society for Old Age Rational Suicide and Friends at the End because I couldn't resist.
As euthanasia catches on as a cause there's no shortage of spokesmen excited by the possibilities. This week it was Silvan Luley, on behalf of Dignitas, the Swiss assisted-suicide organisation.
He told a London conference (of those two groups) that healthy people should be free to choose to die, opening up fresh possibilities of a rational nature.
''If somebody does not enjoy the sunlight, the smell of freshly cut grass in the morning any more, then what do you do then?'' he asked.
We'd better pay close attention. His suggestion bodes ill for the future of people who don't like gardening or mowing lawns, which by the look of things is half the population of this country.
Mr Luley argues that assisted euthanasia would stop people killing themselves in ''ghastly'' ways.
Personally, I can't think of anything ghastlier than a bunch of ''friends'' helping healthy people suffering from grief or depression or a bad hangover to top themselves.
Everyone experiences despair at some time, but it's thankfully balanced by the rational knowledge that tomorrow will come, and it could be a sunny day even if you live in Wellington.
Once you make it easy for people to kill themselves, by making it legal to help them, floodgates of nastiness will open. There's a clue to that in this week's report of increasing elder abuse in the wake of the Christchurch earthquakes.
Families are not made up of uniformly nice people who pull together in bad times. The evidence of that is overwhelming.
So in Christchurch younger family members have been standing over elderly relatives, intimidating them into letting them make off with their quake compensation payouts.
Other old Christchurch people have been dragged to banks to withdraw cash on demand for venal relatives.
Community nurse Lynne Gibbons, who works for Age Concern Canterbury, says lack of respect for an elderly person's quality of life is often at the back of such nastiness - echoed by an attack last week on a near-blind elderly Wainuiomata man, who was beaten and robbed in his home by two teenagers. Picking on the weak and vulnerable is the kind of idle pastime that thrives wherever there's no sense of shame.
Once assisted suicide becomes legal, anyone old and frail and rich will be expected to do the decent thing by whoever stands to profit from their death.
A thinly-disguised legal murder will become routine, especially as lack of respect for the old, and the belief that they don't have any quality of life anyway, is underscored by the ease with which you can ''help'' them die.
In due course I guess there'd be compulsory assisted suicide for people with chronic illnesses and disabilities, too, in the interests of taxpayers who have to fork out for their expensive drugs.
Something like this was trialled last century in Europe. It didn't go down well, but who reads history?
We are so hooked on instant gratification that we can't contemplate death's inevitability without panic attacks.
This is hardly rational, because we were never promised we'd carry on living until we got bored.
In the past, having religious belief might have helped people die with some sense of meaning, but religion is unfashionable and so, probably, is meaning.
It was predictable, then, that Rimutaka Prison's ''faith-based'' unit has proved pointless, and will now be disbanded.
It made no difference at all to reoffending.
On a cheerier note, plans for gay men and women's retirement villages are under way in Auckland, hopefully offering a pleasanter exit plan than the dives we have at present.
I'd opt to go with the gay men. You could count on a decent decor.
- © Fairfax NZ News