Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The right to die - is it right?

I know - it's a strange image to start a post with, isn't it. Normally, I don't really have much of a problem choosing the image to accompany a post on this 'ere blog. Today, though, was different.
Well, today I want to touch on the sensitive and difficult subject of 'the right to die' or to give it another name, 'assisted dying'.
I decided to do a post about this because I read the other day an excellent post on one of the blogs I follow (well worth taking three or four minutes out of your day to read through it):
whothehelldoeshethinkheis - assisted-dying
It's a thoughtful and well-written argument by Dr Ros Taylor.

But let me give you my take on the issue.
On the face of it, this looks like a simple argument between two diametrically opposed groups:
Group 1 - those with severe disabilities or terminal illnesses who have made it abundantly clear that they do not want to die and want to do whatever is necessary to stay alive, irrespective of how much pain they may be enduring (e.g. Baroness Campbell).
Group 2 - those with severe disabilities or a terminal illness who have made it abundantly clear that they've had enough of the pain and suffering they're having to endure every day and will do so for the rest of their lives (e.g. Tony Nicklinson RIP) and because of that, wish to be allowed to end that suffering.

For those in Group 1, the answer to the issue is easy - we must do whatever we can to support them for as long as we can.
For those in Group 2, the answer (in my humble opinion) should also be easy - these people have made a conscious choice, their conscious choice, and we should respect that choice and, if necessary assist them in whatever way possible to exercise that choice. It is for these people (and the people who help them to end their life) that the assisted dying bill is really intended, to ensure that those who assist an individual in taking their own life are not subsequently prosecuted for murder…isn't it?
And if that was all we had to worry about, then we wouldn't really be having this debate because most rational people would, I suggest, accept that a person has a right to make a choice and that it's wrong for someone who helps that person exercise that choice to face the risk of prosecution.

But, alas, that isn't all we have to worry about. Unfortunately, there's something else, and it is that something else which really sits at the heart of the debate.
That something else is a fear, a very specific fear, based (sadly) on a clear though somewhat cynical understanding of the true nature of too many people in this modern, uncaringly materialistic world of ours.
That fear (and in my opinion it is a very valid one) is that if assisted dying was made legal, some people (possibly a lot of people) who are currently in Group 1 would, either by their partners or their children, or more worryingly perhaps, by the state itself through its medical practitioners, be slowly and insidiously coerced from Group 1 into Group 2.
I can just imagine it, and I'm sure you can too. An elderly relative, possibly bed-ridden, being told day after day by their relatives or their carers how much of a burden they are, how better it would be for everyone if they just 'gave up'. How long would it take for even the most positive of people to begin to believe what they were being told, that their own lives were pointless, that all they had left to look forward to was more pain and misery and suffering?
Such coercion (and we would be monumentally naive to believe it wouldn't happen) could be driven by  many things, but mostly, I suspect, by greed. After all, how many look at their elderly relatives and see not the person but the inheritance?
It could also be driven by frustration at being obligated to care. It could even be driven by the state wishing to reduce the burden of the sick and elderly on its own finances and resources.

Whatever the motivation for coercion, it is the very real fear that this would take place that is, I suspect, behind most of opposition to the assisted dying bill.
So could we guard against it? If so, how?
How can we satisfy the legitimate rights of those in Group 2, yet still protect those in Group 1 from the nefarious forces of our world?
I'm afraid I simply don't know the answer to that, and I suspect that the millions and millions of us who have never either suffered as these individuals have suffered or witnessed the interminable suffering of a loved one, don't know the answer either.