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Who owns your right to live or die?

27 May 2015

Gosh, the prospect of colonising Mars seemed a whole lot easier back in the 1960s and 1970s.

After the successful landing of several manned missions to the moon just about everyone was expecting that we'd have a manned colony on Mars by the time the 21st century rolled around.

Boy, were we wrong. Very, very wrong.

Not only are we still a long way from putting a single human onto the surface of the red planet but we haven't even returned a person to the moon since the Apollo 17 mission.

And, looking at the immense challenges posed by both the Martian environment and the torturously long flights to and from -- it doesn't seem as if we'll be putting our feet on Mars for decades, if not longer.

This Popular Science article highlights the very significant hurdles involved in creating and sustaining a manned colony on Mars and is worth a read.

Clearly, our current level of technology just isn't up to the task -- regardless of the high-spirited plans of some groups.

This raises a very important issue, one that will almost certainly have to be negotiated before we engage in the exploration of planets other than our own...

Are one-way missions, where those involved accept the fact that they will likely die with no chance of ever returning to Earth, acceptable?

Right now, here in NZ, there is a very important legal battle going on in the courts whereby a lawyer with terminal brain cancer is seeking the right to choose the time and method of her own death. In a sign of how arrogant governments can be, the law as it stands forbids this woman's doctor from assisting her to die in peace and with dignity.

Surely if there is one thing we all deserve as individuals, it's the right to determine our own moment and method of death, when faced with the prospect of a lingering, painful or distressing natural death from disease. For any government to steal this right from a person is an act so despicable that I am lost for words.

The subject of euthanasia is a complex one and not actually the subject of today's column bit it is very much related... but I'll get back to space travel...

We have to accept that any mission to Mars (or other planets) is very much easier to plan and implement if we are prepared to accept the death of those onboard.

Technology to get a human or humans safely to the surface exists right now and we can even include sufficient kit and food to sustain them for a week or two. What's slowing us down is the need for a return trip or the gear needed to sustain them for an extended period of habitation. Make the astronaut(s) disposable and we could probably launch a mission within a couple of years.

Now I'm sure that there would be no shortage of people ready, willing and able to take on the role of one-way astronaut. These people would effectively be prepared to give their lives for science -- but could we allow them to do so?

Well we allow young men to give their lives in the defence of their country during times of war -- so why not allow people to give their lives for the purpose of expanding our knowledge of the universe -- and even the human body.

Although this might seem significantly different to the issue of euthanasia, the bottom line remains the same: who owns your life and the right to end it?

In a world where the powers of the state seem to grow stronger with every passing day -- eclipsing our own rights to privacy, self-determination and more -- surely the *only* thing we actually own is life itself.

Without the right to "own" our lives, we have nothing.

Today's questions: should we all be allowed to determine the time and method of our own death (accidents notwithstanding)? Should this self-determination include the right to donate our lives to worthy causes -- such as the exploration of space?

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