The Right To Die

I am profoundly thankful that I live in a country where I can choose if I wish to die.

Tony Nicklinson has been denied that choice, and is condemned to serve more time in a living hell.

Update #1: Polly Toynbee has a good article on this issue. As she says:

The verdict was morally abominable – but inevitable. However bad a law may be, it is not for the courts to make fundamental change but for parliament – even when parliament sentences thousands a year to brutal and pointless suffering.

However, as she points out, it will be difficult to persuade the UK Parliament to right this wrong. The religious lobby is extremely powerful.

In opinion polls, for years, more than 80% have supported this change in the law, but every attempt at a right-to-die reform has been sabotaged by the large religious lobby, galvanised by Care Not Killing. The red benches, heavily stacked with the religious, including 26 bishops, saw off the last bills.

Rowan Williams’s pretence is that their opposition springs from a fear this will lead to mass extermination of the inconvenient old. But why should the religious worry more about that than everyone else? The law would provide safeguards. The real religious reason is theological, as voiced in the Lords by the bishop of Oxford when he proclaimed “We are not autonomous beings” – we must all wait for God’s release. Presumably avoidable suffering is part of God’s mysterious purpose.

As I said, I am thankful that I live in the Netherlands. Contrary to what the bishop of Oxford may choose to believe, I am an autonomous being.

Update #2: Sarah Wollaston has an atrocious article on this issue. It appears that not only is she a physician, but she is also the Member of Parliament for Totnes. My heart goes out to the people of Totnes for being saddled with her to represent them in the democratic process, and I would hate to end up as one of her patients. She would quite cheerfully condemn me to continued suffering rather than respect my wishes to end my life.

As Eric MacDonald says:

The trouble with people like Sarah Wollaston is that they do not seem to understand what a human life is. They think, for some reason, that human life is simply a biological reality, the fact that a body is breathing. The human life that we value is very different. A life is a continuum of sorts, with a unity of conception. I do not want to enter into the philosophical problem of identity, but the important thing about a well-lived life is that it has a sense of overall consistency and coherence. That is why we respect people’s autonomy, the right to make their own decisions about life: what to do with their lives, who to marry, whether to have children, which vocation to pursue, and many other decisions that go to make up a life rich in experience and held together, so far as is possible, by a single, or at least a unified sense of what is appropriate for a life so conceived.

A life conceived in this way includes some of the most important decisions that must be made, and includes, as an essential part, how that person understands the part that death plays in life. Most of us do not think much about death, especially when we are in the midst of life, but the time will come when the issue of dying will loom very large indeed. To be unable to make decisions about dying is to put outside the scope of a person’s conception of life all those things that may befall them at the end of life.

Update #3: Tony Nicklinson has died. RIP. He fought well for the right to die with dignity.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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