Saturday, March 13, 2010 

Forced to die alone and without dignity.

An especially powerful letter in today's Graun on the subject of assisted suicide, well worth republishing:

As I read yet another news piece about someone travelling to Dignitasto die (Vicki Wood), I am consumed by sadness (Woman who attempted husband's mercy killing takes her own life in Dignitas clinic, 12 March). Nearly five years ago, my grandfather travelled to Zurich to die. Unable to face months of pain, coupled with physical and mental degradation, he elected to end his life while he could still make the journey. Alone.

Ever the gentleman, my grandfather declined the offer of companionship from my father, for fear of his son's potential prosecution. There were no updated guidelines from the director of public prosecutions – to have such clarity would have been a luxury. Instead, my grandfather took his final journey abroad, alone. He ate his last meal, alone. And his last words were uttered to medical staff. I have no idea what those words may have been, or, indeed, how he felt.

Too often I hear talk of dignity at work or dignity in life generally, but where is our right to dignity in death? In the eyes of Westminster, my grandfather is simply one of 100; another statistic lost in the reams of data that fills the corridors of Whitehall. But to me, he was a brave man forced to leave his homeland in order to die with dignity.

I appreciate the issue is complex, and would be naive to state otherwise, but a sensible resolution is required. How many more Britons have to voyage to Switzerland, before the government seeks a solution? In criminalising assisted suicide, are we not overlooking – undermining? – the right to articulate our own views on life? May Vicki Wood rest in peace.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009 

The right to die.

There's more than a certain irony in the law lords finally doing the decent thing and ruling in favour of Debbie Purdy's right to know under what circumstances her husband might be prosecuted were he to accompany her to Dignitas in Switzerland to die. Less than a month ago the House of Lords rejected the latest attempt to change the law, to allow relatives to accompany a person with terminal illness to places like Dignitas without the threat of prosecution, by a majority of 53. The law lords themselves don't generally vote on legislation, but are life peers.

The law has long needed to be clarified, if only to make it abundantly clear that only in extreme circumstances would any prosecution be attempted, as already seems to be the case. Surely the most likely example of when prosecution might well have been attempted was in the Daniel James case last year. James, a 23-year-old who was paralysed from the chest down after a scrum collapsed on him while playing rugby, was not terminally ill, as most seeking to die at Dignitas are. He had however attempted suicide before, and his parents, respecting his clear choice that he wanted to die, accompanied him to Switzerland. The CPS however decided that although a crime may well have been committed that there was not a public interest in prosecuting them.

All this though is still skirting around the issue. The terminally ill here that want to end their life shouldn't have to travel to Switzerland or anywhere else to do so; they should have the choice to do so in this country. The two things that are holding back a change in the law, which is still surely eventually inevitable, is that politicians are scared rigid of an issue which is both incredibly difficult and which there is no party political advantage to be gained from, quite possibly the opposite in fact. The other is the campaigners that obfuscate and deny the right of others in a similar position to them to even have the ability to say that they don't want to carry on. The likes of Lady Campbell seem to imagine that doctors who have repeatedly made clear they'd prefer not to put in such a position are just waiting to get the ability to stick a needle in the terminally ill and disabled and put them out of their misery. They also imagine that giving a person of sound mind the right to choose to die will somehow put pressure on all of those in a similar position to do the same, even though the safeguards that would be put in place would almost certainly prevent any such thing happening. It's much the same mentality which denies women the right to choose, that those making such a decision need to be talked out of it, that they themselves cannot possibly be in the right frame of mind to be able to make such a choice for themselves, hence they should be denied it entirely. Just like you will never stop those desperate for one from ending their pregnancy, you will never stop those who want to die from getting their way; as with everything else, it's the regulation and safeguards that are the key.

The right to die campaign is only going to grow as the world population inexorably ages. It seems likely that it will finally become as important a right as the right to life itself. The sooner we recognise that the sooner we'll end the stream of those that see the indignity of Dignitas as their only remaining option.

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