I have lost three grandparents and one great-grandparent in the course of my life – two of them to cancer. It was not easy by any stretch of the imagination, and one of the main feelings that came with their deaths (other than the obvious sense of loss and heartbreak) was a profound feeling of relief that they would not have to suffer anymore.
I can barely imagine how Tony Nicklinson and his family must feel, knowing today that their anguish (and Mr. Nicklinson’s suffering) have been indefinitely prolonged by the High Court, which ruled that he was not allowed to seek the help of a doctor to assist him in committing suicide.
Groups such as SPUC Pro-Life have welcomed the decision by saying that “compassion and solidarity are humane and caring responses to locked-in syndrome”. It’s one thing to whistle the tune and tell people to look on the bright side, but watching a family member in suffering – from any kind of life-debilitating illness – is nigh on impossible. And which do you imagine would “adversely affect many people” more – losing a relative, or watching them painfully limp on, day after day, a mere shell of the person you know and love?
Life, like everything, should be about quality, not quantity. I’d rather live for 40 happy years than for 80 miserable ones, and I doubt there are
many out there who would disagree with me.
The BMA, meanwhile, has stated that it’s not in “society’s best interests” for doctors to be allowed to end a life. But what about the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm” that every doctor has to take when they start out? Surely not taking action when it’s very obviously needed does just as much harm as taking the wrong action?
Obviously this is an issue that is fraught with legal complications – what’s stopping a person of ill repute, ten or fifty years time, in bumping off an elderly relative and hiding behind the argument that they wanted to die? But this is why, like with any issue, there should be checks and balances – measures to make sure that the suffering person in question is of sound mind, and is sure that they want to go through with it. Even people who go to Dignitas are allowed to change their minds at the last minute.
Judges say that it is not their place to make calls like this, that it’s up to Parliament to pass laws giving people the right to die. But the House of Lords has already made up its mind, when Diane Petty was refused the right to die 11 years ago. So as the politicians and the judges are left passing responsibility to each other, dozens all over the country are left to suffer.
Today’s High Court ruling boiled down to a simple question: should we allow Tony Nicklinson, a man of extremely sound mind, to die on his own terms, with the modicum of dignity left to him at this point? It’s a simple question with an obvious answer, and yet the High Court judges still managed to choose the wrong one.