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Saturday, 25 July 2009
Death as a Lifestyle Choice

The front page of today's Times screams about a new opinion poll. Apparently there is now "[h]uge public support for change in law to allow the right to die":

Almost three quarters (74 per cent) of people want doctors to be allowed to help terminally ill patients to end their lives. Support is particularly strong among those aged 55 to 64.

Six out of ten people also want friends and relatives to be able to help their dying loved ones to commit suicide without fear of prosecution.

Ludwig Minelli, founder of Swiss death clinic Dignitas, must have €€€ signs in his eyes. Am I out of step, then, in my opposition to Dignitas and my suspicions about assisted suicide? Not necessarily. From The Times article:

The poll found only 13 per cent of the public supported a blanket right to assisted suicide regardless of the individual’s health. Eighty-five per cent said that it should only be legal “in specific circumstances”.
A spokesman for the Care not Killing Alliance dismissed the findings. “Knee-jerk approval of assisted suicide from the worried well is not surprising in this poll, carefully timed immediately to follow the media storm around recent high-profile celebrity suicides,” he said. “It needs to be seen within the context of the House of Lords’ recent rejection of [a legal change] and the continuing strong opposition to any change in the law from senior lawyers, leading doctors, the BMA and disabled people’s groups, all of whom have a good understanding of the dangers to public safety that would accompany any change.”

Indeed. Hard cases make bad law, and bad opinion polls, and the case of the frail Sir Edward Downes and his terminally ill wife is a hard case.

In Pajamas Media today, I develop some thoughts posted here on why assisted suicide pacts, in particular, should be opposed. Unlike John Derbyshire, I believe that this slope is slippery. Click on the syringe for more - it won't kill you, as it's only a picture:

I have probably done Dignitas to death, as it were, but one final thought on suicide pacts: what kind of man is selfish enough to want his healthy wife to die with him? If he had anything about him he would insist that she put that nonsense out of her head right away. John Diamond, the writer who died of cancer nearly ten years ago, wanted his wife Nigella Lawson to enjoy life to the full:

One of the mad emailers' obsessions is - I quote - who's going to be banging Nigella after I've stopped. It really doesn't worry me. As far as I'm concerned, as long as I'm slightly tepid in the grave I'd hope she'd get round to it as soon as possible - metaphorically and literally.

As indeed she did.


Posted on 07/25/2009 3:59 AM by Mary Jackson
25 Jul 2009
Esmerelda Weatherwax

Harry Patch slipped peacefully away in his sleep at 9am this morning.
He ended his biography
"Well if they have written the obituary, all I can say is that I hope to live long enough that theywill have to update it, and more than once! Then I can fade away. Isn't that what old soldiers are meant to do?"
Thats dignity.

25 Jul 2009
Send an emailRebecca Bynum

Excellent. If this isn't a slippery slope, I don't know what is. I think there is a fear set up in people derived from the odd case of someone being kept alive for years with no hope of recovery. But far more often the terminally ill are allowed to die "in dignity" with plenty of morphine in the hospital or nursing home or at home. Thousands of people die with dignity this way every day. The thought of a clinic that profits from dispatching people before their time is really revolting.

25 Jul 2009
Send an emailMary Jackson

Thanks. My mother loved my father dearly - they were happily married for nearly fifty years - but she would have been horrified and insulted at the idea that her life was worthless without him. So would he. And your point about the disabled is very important.

As for the poll, hard cases make bad law. If you take an opinion poll after an extreme case like that of the Downes couple, you get an extreme reaction. Plus, how was the question put?

25 Jul 2009
Esmerelda Weatherwax

One of your best articles I think.
No, you are not out of step, other than with the vociferous pro-suiciders who are primed to write to The Times in support whenever the matter comes up.
You and I have personal examples to support our view. I know that I have been very impressed with the care members of my family have received from more than one hospice. For that reason I am starting to spread the charities I support to include our two local hospices.
My husband works with adults with learning difficulties and/or physical disabilities. They are terrified of this becoming law - they fear it will mean that one day they will be terminated as lacking sufficient quality of life. They have a point.