A couple of weeks ago, I read ‘Until You’ve Wheeled a Mile In My Shoes …’ by Mik Scarlet in the Huff Post.
He argues cogently, from his passionate and informed personal perspective, against enshrining in law any right-to-die (RTD), assisted suicide/dying (AD) or euthanasia legislation.
It is a subject topical at the moment following the assisted death of 12 year old Nancy Fitzmaurice – allowed to die after a legal ruling In a landmark case, Great Ormond Street fought on behalf of Charlotte, and dad David Wise, to give her the right to die – and the passing of Lord Falconer’s draft bill on Assisted Dying – see Where We Are Now on the Care Not Killing website – through the House of Lords.
Like Mik, I have a very passionate personal interest in this subject – for a synopsis of my position see Assisted Dying and Right to Die Legislation – but, unlike Mik, my perspective suggests there is no ‘right’ solution or reconcilable position that will satisfy the demands of opposing proponents in this debate because, to my mind, both the for and against arguments for RTD and AD are ‘right’.
The ‘Against’ proponents, represented by Mik amongst others, have many persuasive arguments for their position and, speaking as an able-bodied person who supported RTD/AD before my disabling illness, I stand testament to the general veracity of his informed opinions on attitudes and prejudices towards the unknown and unfamiliar; the fear of, and coping with, disability; living with pain and, assumptions about quality of life issues.
As one who, pre-illness, uttered those fateful words – oh, the shame – ‘I’d kill myself if that happened to me’, I now do ‘feel’ where Mik is coming from. (I said it 25 years ago, to a friend whose partner was diagnosed with MS. They are, amazingly, still friends with me and, yes, I do let them laugh and toss my words back at me as often as they care to – that would be … a lot.)
Sadly, no-one would have convinced me how wrong I was in my thinking until it did happen to me so I absolutely see the dangers of the ‘worried well’ and their fears supporting legislation that has ghastly eugenic consequences – dangers hugely exacerbated by a government which sees those of us with illness and disability as ‘shirkers’ or ‘deserving charitable cases’ only and has no regard for improved quality of life for any who need help.
Despite thinking I would not, when illness and disability became my new reality, I chose to live. The evidence of others like me indicates that most people, given support, time and resources, would choose to do the same. It might take us a while to adjust – cough, maybe years (!) – but we do live, yes, with illnesses, pain and all … quite tolerably, if a little differently from the ‘norm’.
Is life only worth living for the ‘perfect’ – don’t wars get fought over that?
And, if we can adjust to our own ‘imperfections’, shouldn’t society stagger into the new world too? Good law should be based on the reality of those affected rather than the assumptions of those who are not.
For the greater good, the law must prioritise life. But, but, but … and there always is one, no?
As I said in Coronation Street Suicide, summarising just a few of the points I made, this positive prioritisation of life ignores:
… 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 [and months] …
… it [is] 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?
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.
The fundamental issue ignored by most of the anti RTD/AD proponents is that, for some, illness and disability is all about death. Even for young people sometimes, children too. And that is the natural order of things. We live. We die.
As much as many will not want RTD/AD, there are some, always relatively few, who do wish to embrace death and need help to do so when they are ready. There are personal situations that most of us will, thankfully, live our entire lives unaware of. Medical interventions may keep us ‘alive’ far longer than we might wish to.
Welcoming death is not necessarily a bad thing. I cannot be alone in recognising – more acutely now that I live with illness and disability – that there are circumstances where I would embrace an end to my pain and suffering.
Goodness that sounds melodramatic but it isn’t meant to. I just think that if Mik wants to ask others to wheel in his shoes and prioritise life then he must – we all must – consider how our assumptions, conclusions and law affect those – ultimately any one of us too – whose natural end is death.
We all know there are some horrible ways to die, that medical interventions may not ameliorate and even that life is not ‘worth’ living when it is all about waiting for death. In looking to the greater good:
… our protection surely cannot be given in denial of the plight of those worse off than we are: the group [those coming to the natural end of life] 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 AD, doesn’t it?
However much we think we ‘know’, surely none of can assume to be ‘right’ in this?
The good law that we all want must acknowledge the evident realities in circumstance of death, and allow the easing of it when appropriate, as much as it prioritises life in its’ general application, shouldn’t it?
A good passing through life and death – somehow we need to legislate for both. Does anyone agree with me in this?