The illustrious English crime writer and Conservative peer P.D.James may make her living by imagining murders, but she has no time for euthanasia (although she does not oppose suicide). In a delightful interview with the Observer, the 91-year-old author answered questions from readers and other writers. Here are some excerpts:
Are you scared of dying and does that inform your writing?
No, I am not afraid of death but I do fear the process of dying if it means prolonged pain, indignity and lack of independence. I make a strong distinction between death and dying. At over 90, I fear prolonged pain. And as to whether it informs my writing – it probably does but not in a way I am conscious of.
What are your views on the right to die with dignity?
PDJ I think a person whose life, perhaps through appalling pain, has become intolerable has the right to end it. But I am less assured of the right of other people to indulge in mercy killing. I think murder has to remain the unique crime. And many old people would feel that they ought to end their life perhaps to benefit their children, if the practice were to become commonplace and other elderly people were doing it.
What is the best thing about being a nonagenarian?
[There is a prolonged silence during which she admits that her silence might serve as an answer in itself.] Oh dear, what can one say for it? One has learnt what is important and what is unimportant. At least, I hope I have learned the difference. I agree with Keats that the most important thing in life is the “holiness of the heart’s affections”.
Do you feel lucky in the life you have had?
I feel incredibly fortunate and blessed, for which I nightly give thanks. I have worked hard and tried to do my best but many other people do that without the good fortune that I have enjoyed.