I read two thought provoking articles over the weekend discussing some of the issues raised by the current assisted suicide storyline in TV soap drama, Coronation Street.
The first was ‘Corrie suicide doesn’t tell us anything about the law and guidance on assisted suicide’ by Alice Maynard, Chair of Scope; the second was ‘If we don’t care, we will legalise euthanasia’ by Peter Franklin in The Times (behind a paywall).
Both writers present powerful and reasoned arguments but both fail entirely to address the key reason that this debate comes up again and again and resonates with such a wide section of the general population, both able and non-able bodied – the plight of the terminally ill who may or may not be disabled, who are living with an intolerable (to them) quality of life and require assistance to take their own life.
This is my reply to Alice Maynard’s Scope piece:
I appreciate the essential point you make and share your concern. However, ignoring, in your argument, as a separable group, those who have a terminal illness, many of whose symptoms cannot be ameliorated to allow them a quality of life that they wish to lead in their final days weakens all that you say, in my opinion.
The right-to-die legislation is about assisting that group & I find it very difficult to support a position that forces such people who are of sound intellect & speaking from a uniquely personal perspective to suffer more than they feel able. I further do not see how it is right that you, I or the law should force them to do so when, in today’s era, there are other options available to them. I think it barbaric of us as a society to witness the ordeals of those like Tony Nicklinson. Does not our human compassion extend to people in his position too or must they, as individuals, suffer in a manner never faced by most of us?
I am deeply uncomfortable with the slippery slope arguments relating to RTD legislation and do agree that, given society’s attitudes to disability generally, the concerns you express are very real but surely it should not be beyond us to take under consideration both groups potentially affected here and develop legislation that works for both.
My own preference would be a ‘no’ right to die but with a clause for court appeal allowing exemption under the tightly defined exceptional circumstances. Given the numbers who actually do want to die when it is becomes a reality, we should be capable of this.
It is impossible for most of us to understand how precious life becomes until it is definably finite thus many able bodied, non-ill, people imagine they’d want to die when in reality they probably wouldn’t. So, yes, protect us from their lack of awareness & fear but, also, let us acknowledge & support the few who have reached the point of ‘enough’ in good faith. This is not the equivalent of an able/physically healthy person’s suicide but a considered & very personal decision for some. Let us hope we know not that choice.
Peter Franklin’s article gave me pause for further thought as his final paragraphs do send a chill down my spine:
Soap operas such as Coronation Street depict the most dramatic of situations. In doing so they can raise awareness of important social issues. But there are some things about our society that primetime TV keeps off our screens — above all, the grinding isolation of so many of the elderly, the disabled and the mentally ill.
We shouldn’t forget that this is the context within which we would legalise euthanasia. With the best of intentions we’ll try to keep the genie in the bottle, but gradually we’ll let it go. It isn’t that we want people to kill themselves, it’s more that compared to helping them to live, helping them to die is too damn easy.
This has a horrible ring of truth to it which, alongside the overwhelming support from the able bodied community – the well and fearful – for Assisted Suicide (AS) and Right To Die (RTD) legislation makes me really fear for the ‘differently normal’ in our society – yes, that’s the group of which I am one.
But our protection surely cannot be given in denial of the plight of those worse off than we are: the group that is the smallest, the weakest, the least able to stand up and speak out in any way. To ignore this group ‘for the greater good’, to ignore so many people’s fears of being in this group, to dismiss each individual within it who suffers horrendous agonies is to ignore our shared humanity which returns us to the essence of the entire debate against AS, doesn’t it?
Surely it is incumbent upon those of us who oppose AS/RTD to support legislation which acknowledges that human death is inevitable, the actual process of dying may be so painful that even our medical knowledge will not help, that quality of life may so poor for the dying that it is a relief to die?
If we cannot understand, acknowledge and support the terminally-ill group who seek AS/RTD legislation within our bigger-but-still-a-minority differently-normal group, how can we expect the wider well-and-fearful population to take our minority fears and concerns under consideration.
Let us show the breadth of our human compassion and agree a solution in principle for all parties who might be affected by this legislation – terminal, ill, disabled, young and old – rather than allow the well-and-fearful to hijack this issue to the disadvantage of us all.