I make no apologies for keeping the corpse of the euthanasia/assisted suicide argument hanging around the bar today; if the stench is unpleasant and disagreeable to you, so be it. It’ll be your stench one day, you can’t live for ever – take some smelling salts or something.
I don’t often get ‘stung’ by comments; I’ve developed a thick skin over the past couple of years, but there have been a couple of comments that really got to me in respect of this debate. The temptation to fire up the arthritic fingers and bash out a reply was nearly overwhelming – but it is too sensitive a subject to take that approach, and I don’t want to single anyone out when I say that many people, too many people, ably abetted by the determined conflation of issues in the media, do not understand that there are two debates here, not one.
Let me make two things abundantly clear. I haven’t changed my mind on legalised euthanasia, nor do I have any wish to see your Aunty Gilda dying a long and lingering death out of some religious respect for the notion of ‘life’.
I also fully respect your right to take your own life if you wish, as you wish, when you wish.
The grey area is when you involve other people.
At present, it is illegal for a Doctor to kill you in any short, painless, or humane manner. He is required to judge the amount of barbiturates and morphine that will ensure that you suffer no pain, and possibly are completely unaware of your surroundings – but he must not increase the dose even fractionally if that would effectively kill you.
If he wants to kill you – then he requires a court order to do so. That court order will demand that all medical treatment is ‘refused’ on your behalf – the so called extension of autonomy to refuse treatment that we all hold.
No longer will he be juggling pain relief; in fact no longer will he be giving you food or water, because that can be classed as ‘medical treatment’. You will merely be left to expire at your own pace, unaided by the medical team. No more friendly morphine, in fact you might as well crawl away under a bush – not a lot of point in being in hospital. No wonder they give it the euphemism ‘Liverpool Pathway’. It is a horrendous way to die, a million miles away from the outcome most people expect from a Doctor or euthanasia.
What I suspect most people want from legalised Euthanasia, is that the Doctor be permitted to increase the dose of morphine, to a level that he knows will kill you. End of pain, end of suffering, no lingering death, just swallow these tablets and we can all go home?
That is fine by me – given that we already have legally sanctioned killing of patients. I would prefer that it was done in a humane and dignified way. The Doctor dealing out Dignitas. I wouldn’t be so keen to support euthanasia if we hadn’t already brought in our half cocked version. But I haven’t changed my mind from previous articles.
Next up in the long queue of ways to beat nature, is Assisted Suicide. That is an entirely different beastie. That is not, and never will be, in the category of ‘I don’t know how you can want anyone to suffer in the way my Aunty Gilda did, Anna’.
Assisted suicide is not about the last few weeks of Uncle Fred or Aunty Gilda’s miserable life. Assisted suicide is about extending your autonomy to kill yourself, at a time, place, and for a reason of your choosing, to grant someone else the right – or should I say, duty – to do it for you.
Assisted suicide is carefully promoted by situations that we can scarcely argue with – the man with Motor Neurone disease, for instance. The little most of us know about that disease is culled from the papers – a ‘terrifying death’ ‘suffocation’ ‘gradual total paralysis’ – and we all respond like lemmings – ‘ooh, er, I wouldn’t fancy that’. Well who would? It doesn’t become a reason to support Assisted Suicide.
Truly, there is no one going into the Dignitas clinic for any of the reasons that have been quoted to me – ‘Fred’, incontinent, unable to move, unable to see, in terrible agony, nor immobile and about to suffocate – as reasons for euthanasia. There is one very simple reason for this.
You have to fly to Zurich. You have to be fit enough to fly to Zurich. British Airways don’t yet have intensive care flying hospitals, and they are not keen on upsetting their other customers.
The carefully crafted scene the BBC showed was of someone fit enough to fly, surrounded by his loving family, who was perfectly able to lift a cupful of barbiturates to his lip – who had chosen to die at that moment, in that manner. He could equally well have saved up his barbiturates and done the same thing quietly at home. Wouldn’t have improved the viewing figures though. They might just as well have filmed someone hurling themselves off the top floor of Broadcasting House. It was supported by Debbie Purdy, who is campaigning for the right to ask her husband, without fear of prosecution, to ‘dispatch’ her, at a time and manner of her choosing.
It was a perfect conflation of three issues – the caring Doctor over-dispensing barbiturates, suicide, and the non-prosecution of your family for ‘helping you’.
I am not, and never will be, in favour of ‘assisted suicide’. As I have said before, we have enough trouble deciding on the truth of what goes on in the bedroom when both parties are alive and able to speak for themselves. We will never be able to decide on the truth of the situation when one party in is the morgue having the plastic bag dislodged from their head.
You cannot say ‘yes’ to assisted suicide and then say ‘but only by a Doctor at the end of life’. Suicide is the right to kill yourself, whenever, however, you wish.
To the people who have said – ‘I’d be proud to do the honours for my friend/parent/child’. Quite possibly so. That is your voluntary choice. What I object to is the present situation where a parent can say ‘I want to go to Dignitas – and I expect you to arrange it’. That is a quite unfair emotional burden.
I have seen the reality of arranging such a trip, and it is debilitating, life changing. It makes no difference whether it is Zurich or a porta-cabin at the rear of your local Tesco’s. It will make no difference whether it is some heart string tugging terminal disease or depression.
Having someone you love say to you – ‘please make arrangements to kill me, if you don’t I will suffer unimaginable pain/ live an unbearable life, and it will all be your fault’, is grotesque.
Now, if someone would change the barrel for me – drinks all round?
Edited to add: I’ve just been sent a link to Mummylonglegs excellent – and characteristically blunt – post on the subject. We are almost in agreement on something for a change! More than worth reading.