Thursday, December 11, 2008

A bugger's muddle

From the moment we're born - no, from the very moment we're conceived - there is only one thing that is absolutely certain about our lives: that they will end. Yes, death is the only certainty.

So why do we find it so hard to talk about? And more to the point, in the week where two high-profile cases of assisted suicide hit the news, why do we find it so hard to treat it rationally, sensitively, and humanely?

The case of Daniel James, who broke his neck in a rugby scrum and was paralysed from the chest down, and the more public (by virtue of it being the subject of a TV documentary that actually filmed and broadcast the moment of his death) but no less harrowing case of Craig Ewert, a sufferer from motor neurone disease who was not much older than me, have opened a tentative debate on the subject of a person's right to decide the time and manner of their death. Which at least in the latter case, was something the poor man had hoped to do.

So when is this fine, upstanding nation (allegedly) going to grasp this particular nettle and put an end to the typically British bugger's muddle that the law finds itself in at the moment? A situation where anyone who helps another to die risks prosecution and lengthy imprisonment (up to 14 years, as I understand it), and yet where increasing numbers of people are dragging themselves off to Switzerland, where a company called Dignitas are (legally) prepared to let them fulfil their wish to die. A situation where the CPS will examine each case on its merits, and in a majority of cases will elect NOT to prosecute, and yet where the threat of that prosecution hangs over the heads of all involved, and results in at least as many people deciding it's not worth the risk (it is estimated) as decide they will throw the dice and help their loved ones out of the terrible situation they find themselves in.

Situations like Daniel's. An energetic, athletic young man staring down the long dark tunnel of 40, 50, 60 years spent having someone else take care of him in the most intimate way, while he remained incapable of taking part in any of the activities that gave his life meaning. Or like Craig's. Facing the certain erosion of his ability to control his own movements until he reached the point where he would be completely unable to do anything for himself, including committing suicide.

Why are such people, already in desperate straits, forced to travel to another country to achieve their wish? Would it not be more fitting to allow them to die in familiar circumstances? At home, where as many family, friends and neighbours as they wish can be on hand to say that final farewell, where the surroundings are comforting rather than clinical, and where the absence of sufficient means to finance the final journey will not present yet another insurmountable barrier to their goal.

Yes, there are risks of abuse, coercion, of it becoming the expected thing. Yes, there are safeguards that must be put in place. But let's at least have the debate, and the maturity to realise that in the end, if no-one has the right to dictate how someone else lives, then no-one has the right to dictate how they die.


Don said...

Well said, John.
A high school friend of mine, after getting married and becoming the father of two beautiful girls, found out he was full of cancer. He was around 33 at the time. After one bout of chemotherapy, he decided to end his life. He took a quad out in the boonies, and jumped over a cliff. That was the end he chose.
I remember him how he was, always loving life and the excitement it held.

Blythe said...

This is a very broad subject, I might have a lot to say about it.

This is like Euthanasia isn't it? Assisted suicide? Yes, I'm very much all for it. I think the law in this country is definitely messed up. We don't seem to be able to get things right with anything - anything that the government decides seems to benefit only like 2% of the population so there's really no point in it in the first place, except to make a meager amount of people happy.

But yeah exactly. I mean generally our lives are controlled to an extent, but we're definitely a lot free-er than we have been in previous centuries (I'm trying to write this with printing noises in my ear >__<)

But err... I've forgotten what else I was gonna say. xD Adios then. xxx