Itaque de isto feremus sententiam, an oporteat fastidire senectutis extrema et finem non opperiri, sed manu facere. prope est a timente, qui fatum segnis exspectat, sicut ille ultra modum deditus vino est, qui amphoram exsiccat et faecem quoque exsorbet. de hoc tamen quaeremus, pars summa vitae utrum faex sit an liquidissimum ac purissimum quiddam, si modo mens sine iniuria est et integri sensus animum iuvant nec defectum et praemortuum corpus est; plurimum enim refert, vitam aliquis extendat an mortem. at si inutile ministeriis corpus est, quidni oporteat educere animum laborantem? et fortasse paulo ante quam debet faciendum est, ne, cum fieri debebit, facere non possis; et cum maius periculum sit male vivendi quam cito moriendi, stultus est, qui non exigua temporis mercede magnae rei aleam redimit. paucos longissima senectus ad mortem sine iniuria pertulit, multis iners vita sine usu sui iacuit; quanto deinde crudelius iudicas aliquid ex vita perdidisse quam ius finiendae? noli me invitus audire, tamquam ad te iam pertineat ista sententia, et quid dicam aestima; non relinquam senectutem, si me totum mihi reservabit, totum autem ab illa parte meliore; at si coeperit concutere mentem, si partes eius convellere, si mihi non vitam reliquerit, sed animam, prosiliam ex aedificio putri ac ruenti. morbum morte non fugiam, dumtaxat sanabilem nec officientem animo. non afferam mihi manus propter dolorem: sic mori vinci est. Hunc tamen si sciero perpetuo mihi esse patiendum, exibo, non propter ipsum, sed quia impedimento mihi futurus est ad omne, propter quod vivitur. imbecillus est et ignavus, qui propter dolorem moritur, stultus, qui doloris causa vivit.
(Seneca Minor, Ep. ad Luc. 58.32-36)
So now I will give an opinion on the point you raise, whether it is appropriate to spurn extreme old age, not waiting for the end but making an end by one’s own act. It’s the next thing to cowardice when one merely waits in idleness for death to come, just as one must be excessively devoted to wine if he drains every drop from the vat and guzzles even the lees. My question, though, is this: is the last part of life really the lees, or is it the finest, purest part? That is, provided the mind is without impairment, the senses intact and of use to the mind, and provided the body is not crippled and moribund before its time. For it matters a great deal whether one is prolonging life or prolonging death. Yet if the body can no longer perform any service, why should it not be appropriate to release the suffering mind? Perhaps what is called for is even to act a little before you must, lest when the time comes you should be unable. The risk of living in misery is worse than that of dying swiftly—and that being so, it’s foolish not to use a small amount of time as coin to buy off a huge gamble. Rarely does a prolonged old age deliver anyone to death without impairment; on the contrary, people are frequently confined to their beds without use of their limbs. Do you think it is any more cruel to lose something of your life than it is to lose the privilege of ending it? Don’t be unwilling to hear me, thinking that this opinion relates immediately to yourself. Assess what I’m saying on its own merits. I will not abandon old age as long as it allows me to keep my whole self—that is, the whole of my better part. But if it begins to attack my mind and lop off parts of it—if it keeps me alive without allowing me a life, then I will fling myself from the decayed and collapsing edifice. I will not die to escape sickness, provided it is curable and no impediment to the mind. I will not lay hands on myself because of pain: such a death is defeat. But if I know I will have to endure the pain without intermission, I will depart, not because of the pain itself, but because it will hinder me from everything that makes life worth living. He who dies merely because of pain is weak and lazy; he who lives merely for pain is a fool. (tr. Margaret Graver & Anthony A. Long)