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Assisted Dying and Right To Die Legislation

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2015 Archive 20: Life Changes

With comments from yet another Lords debate making me think about it, I took a quick look back at previous pieces that I’ve written on the subject of Right-To-Die and Assisted Dying (RTD/AD) legislation.

My overwhelming sense has been, and remains, that we should be as flexible as possible in legislating on this.  I just don’t see how there can be any absolute position of certitude with such strong feelings and arguments both for and against.  Given the absence of certainty, I also cannot see how any prescriptive position, by either proponent, is valid.

Passionate proponents of RTD/AD, when faced with the reality of death, do sometimes find more flexibility within themselves than they had thought they would.  Read about Brooke Hopkins and Peggy Battins experience in Emotion Sways Principle which led me to conclude:

Moving and powerful insight about the strength of our emotional responses when we face a reality that directly challenges our academic principles. How can any of us ‘know’ what we would want to do until it happens, however sure we are in the abstract? It argues, in my view, towards an open and flexible solution – generally ill-suited to legislative frameworks but what else is there?

Other supporters of RTD/AD are too often able-bodied people whose perception of living with pain/ill-health/aging/poverty is skewed to such an alarming degree that, without personal experience, they think they would rather be dead than ill or disabled.  This widely held misperception is not improved at all by the current government/media frenzy to reduce ‘unsupportable’ costs.  In What’s The Disability Plan, I was worrying when Zoe Williams in The Guardian asked:

[The] political statement [of the government] is much deeper than “we can no longer afford disability rights”. The political statement, here, is “we can no longer afford for people to be disabled”.
This is a massive shift in perspective from any political party, let alone one in government – and before they go any further along this path … it’s time to ask: well then, what’s your plan? What’s your plan for these people whose lives we apparently can’t afford?

Whilst I absolutely do not dismiss valid issues about the psychology of ‘wanting to die’ as being associated with value/cost/standards of living for those who need support, we surely must not conjoin these two issues – the social issues of disability/illness and RTD/AD legislation – as to do so creates much frenzied hysteria over ideas of people being euthanised to save money.  This is a ludicrous notion in our society, absolutely not part of any proposed legislation on RTD/AD and serves only to deflect attention from those with genuine reason to support improved access to RTD/AD .

Alongside the fearful well, there is much support for RTD/AD from those who have seen a loved one suffer and who of us does not understand that?  However well meaning, though, I don’t believe it should be the responsibility of any other party to make an RTD/AD decision for someone else which effectively bars anyone with mental health problems from access to RTD/AD.  Harsh?  Yes, but surely one of the safeguards that prevents the slippery slope to euthanasia argument.

And then, there are those who support RTD/AD from a position of personal knowledge.  For me, they should be the only voice we hear here and it is to our shame if we choose not to listen.

You may be thinking that I am ignoring those opposed to RTD/DA but I don’t mean to.  it is just that, whether legislation is passed to allow it or not, they are able to live their lives as they wish.  I don’t really understand why they would seek to impose their beliefs on those who openly disagree with them.  Those who support RTD/AD, at the present, are not seeking to stop those who disagree with them but merely asking that – only willing -support be extended to allow autonomy over their own lives.

In August 2012, in Tony Nicklinson’s Right To Die which also quotes from 2009: Right To DieI wrote:

A man of sound mind has felt compelled to starve himself to death in 21st century Britain and we say what? … we would watch him starve to death rather than ease his suffering whilst wringing our hands and arguing for the ‘greater good’. This is barbaric, uncivilised and surely not our only choice.
I think the law on this should be changed to allow an exemption, on a case by case basis, for the individual of sound mind, who is otherwise incapable, to appropriate responsibility from the state for their right to die at a time, in a place and by the method of their own choosing, subject to agreement by suitably qualified medical personnel.
On compassionate grounds, I will never be able to accept that those already living lives unimaginable to most of us should be forced to live and then die, in a manner abhorrent to them, to support the ‘greater good’ of those who live life under different circumstances …
Of sound mind, such individuals come to us not for judgement but facilitation and, in the face of each individual that we condemn to such suffering, we must surely question our law, our senses and our certitude with compassion.
It should not be beyond the wit and wherewithal of a civilised society and parliament to devise law which protects the majority and allows compassion on an individual basis. Compassion for the individual within the protection of a wider legal framework for society. Surely, this is what we all strive for. How many more people must we assign to an agonising death before we get it? Please let Tony Nicklinson be the last.

Listening to the debate a year on, I feel the same way.  Never imagining I would say this (as an RTD/AD advocate), I think I’d support a default ‘no’ in the RTD/AD legislation if tempered by an individual opt-out clause for those intellectually able with terminal/terminally progressive conditions.

There are not a huge number of individuals meeting the conditions and seeking relief by means of the proposed RTD/DA legislation but on an individual level, it is entirely repugnant that these few should suffer.  We seem able to incorporate opt-outs under certain conditions in many other contracts so why not in this?

I shall be following this debate to its’ end.  Will you?

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