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Ask Faye 7 – The Big Countdown Clock: A Universal Chrono-Headcase


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/02/11

Faye Girsh is the Founder and the Past President of the Hemlock Society of San Diego. She was the President of the National Hemlock Society (Defunct) and the World Federation of RTD Societies (Extant). Currently, she is on the Advisory Board of the Final Exit Network and the Euthanasia Research and Guidance Organization. Here we talk about time, meaning, and wills.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: As a species, we appear driven a teensy bit mad by thinking about the passage of time. From hopes or assertions of an ever-after to considerations of an extended legacy in the memories of loved ones, we fret. 

I see this in the elders around me. I see this in myself. A sense of the impending – either far off at the ultimate ultimatum of life or some assignment due for a course. I think about the individuals coming forward with living wills. 

How far in advance of a typically expected death are wills produced by people? How is this will timing production different from a sudden or creeping illness with poor recovery prospects landing onto a person’s conscious life? I may be wrong, but I would assume a difference in the timelines.

Faye Girsh: In the event of the proverbial being hit by a truck, an advance directive is recommended for anyone over 18. No doubt our wishes would change if we had a lingering illness and pain and weren’t able to do the things we enjoy. In my retirement community, I am impressed (and surprised) at how people cling to life when they are dependent on caregiving, medication, and even a loss in cognitive functioning.

Sometimes younger people say they would not want “anything” if they were in a dependent situation. But once there people do change their minds. You can always change your document but it’s important to have one.

Jacobsen: Observationally, experientially, time seems intuitively hooked to a sense of the significance of things, of meaning, and gets all the more amplified with digital technology. Stuff that counts units of time. 

Sometimes to the accuracy of the radiative tick of a Caesium 133 atom – truly astonishing, almost miraculous. Is this ever remarked upon or written within the books, journals, or newsletters of the societies in which rational suicide, dying with dignity, and so on, are central premises of their vision and mission?

That is to say, is there lengthy conversation on a sense of time and its relation to a sense of meaning/significance in life?

Girsh: This may be above my pay grade. I don’t know any research on this point. Time is a variable that markedly changes depending on what’s happening during the passage of it.

Steve Jobs, in a speech before he died, expresses his gratitude to death. “Death is very likely the single best invention of life…It clears out the old to make way for the new.”

Time is the gift we take for granted. How we use is our legacy: what we accomplish, what we do for humanity, what we leave for our loved ones. As it gets shorter it does seem to pass more quickly.

Jacobsen: Following from the previous question, does this change the quality or reflective quality of the wills?

Girsh: As I speculated above, younger people are more careless about time and often ready to say “enough” if their quality of life is at all compromised. As we age, that time shrinks and we do everything possible to hang on to what’s left.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Faye.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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