Euthanasia

hanged-man1 I have always been against euthanasia. I have been happy with assisting suicide being criminal. Might I change my mind?

Having been suicidal, I know that it is no solution to any problem. I feel that any life is better than death. And, I know what it is to Want something ridiculous or disgusting in others’ view- my transition- and from that can empathise with bodily integrity identity disorder- those people who want parts of themselves amputated.

I would want not just anybody to be able to assist someone to kill themselves. I would want this restricted, so there was a clear evidence trail: so my scheme would need particular licensed, medically qualified killers, a psychiatric assessment, and an independent witness of the person’s desire.

I loathe the idea that someone might kill herself now, because in a year she will have no quality of life, and will be unable to kill herself. If you can get yourself to a high building and over the parapet, you can kill yourself- though in a selfish way, hurting the people who have to find you, and scrape you up. Incidentally, there are some very very bad places to throw yourself from the cliffs at Beachy Head: you might land on a ledge, broken but conscious, then die of exposure because no-one could find le pendu_finalyou. A coroner’s assistant told me this. And a man who hanged himself with a sisal rope had scratch marks at his neck: he had changed his mind, but been unable to loosen the knot.

Having been suicidal, I can report that there is a ghastly unreality about one’s fantasies. I imagine myself relaxed and content, slipping off, whereas the threat to life brings forth primordial brain structures, raging at the dying of the light.

Suicide is utterly horrible, the declaration of final hopelessness. My friend said “It is a permanent solution to a temporary problem”. But not in these cases: someone terminally ill whose illness will slowly strip away mental and physical function and cause increasing pain-

A year ago I would have been unequivocally against euthanasia. It is an easy way out for the medical profession, too: they strive for effective palliative care, because that is their only option. I want them to work very hard on palliative care. They still will, many of them. Any mercy killing is an admission of failure for them.

Over the last few months I have been coming round, and this morning sitting down to think it through, here, I have come round to supporting euthanasia for the terminally ill. I am not quite there for everyone who wants it: not for depression, not for someone paralysed from the neck down as I dare to hope such a person, forced to live, might find some meaning in life.

29 thoughts on “Euthanasia

  1. Very complex issue. My mother-in-law made me promise that when her time came, I’d make sure no one interfered with her. This meant I stood firmly by her having her sherry everyday, despite the doctors. She could also eat whatever she wanted. And I picked out her clothes and took her to the hairdresser so she looked dignified until the very end.
    Strangely enough, we were talking about this last night. Mike says that if I have a disease and there’s a chance of a cure he would expect me to try a treatment. I told him no. If the odds are against me, I’d rather not put myself or anyone else through the hassle.
    My issues with suicide have always been of a practical nature. As Dorothy Parker once wrote:
    Razors pain you,
    Rivers are damp,
    Acids stain you,
    And drugs cause cramp.
    Guns aren’t lawful,
    Nooses give,
    Gas smells awful.
    You might as well live.
    – of course, she’s correct. There’s no good way to go about it. That being said, I have no intention of inflicting myself upon the world for any inordinate amount of time. One day in the future I shall probably dutifully drive myself to a hospital parking lot and take concentrated oleander tea. Should I be alone in the end, I may do that at home. I shall be clean and nicely dressed. No troubles for anyone.
    Life is ephemeral. We are ephemeral. It’s been alright, but I feel no need to cling to breathing.

  2. I don’t know what I think about it. The only thing I have ever thought about was drifting slowly to the bottom of the swimming pool and sitting there. However that somewhat ignored the fact that it would be unpleasant and painful, rather I was thinking of the pleasant feelings of being in the water.

    As for medically-assisted euthanasia, I have to declare an interest there in the case of Dave Moore, Newcastle GP, who I knew well enough that he took me out for lunch. Nice man. Had a good personal general practice. Not sure what went wrong. But I don’t think it’s up to a doctor to take the decision, there is only one person who can do that.

    Then there is the concept of non-intervention. My father, dying in hospital of colorectal cancer, refused to have any further tests and procedures. I knew he wouldn’t want any of it, so I told him his rights as I knew no one else would.
    I figured he’d got stage 3 or possibly 4 anyway so it was only a matter of time. Speaking to the geriatrician (he was in an elderly ward) she knew even less than me. Oncology wasn’t exactly her specialty. But, you could argue that by agreeing with the patient’s refusal for further treatment, it is implicit assisted euthanasia. I would not argue that. I would argue otherwise, a bit like myatheistlife and a bit like Pink. We all have to die at some point. But we would all like to go with some dignity and peacefully. He died in his sleep in a cottage hospital. He would have preferred to have been at home, but I had to balance caring for the dying with caring for the still living – my mother – and she couldn’t have coped with him, and quite frankly neither could I.

    Life is precious, but it ends. No need to end it prematurely, but no need to prolong it when the light is going ever dimmer.

  3. I’m still sitting on the fence when it comes to euthanasia – I see the positive in ending physical pain etc from terminal illness etc and then the negative in willingly or on purpose even if it is from compassion a life…

    • Anyone can commit suicide. There are lots of tall enough buildings about. By the time a life might have reached an end, and be being dragged out in pain and confusion, you need help to commit suicide. The argument against is, do we want a country where we seek to keep people alive and comfortable, or one where we say life is not worth living in some cases. Once we admit that, a line is crossed and the risk is that life is seen as “not worth living” in other cases- but I dislike Floodgates arguments on other matters.

      • I do struggle with the concept of drawing a line to the worth of living when it comes to physical illness…but perhaps, God forbid, I would think differently were I in such shoes…

  4. You bring up so many important points here. I can see how it’s an area that almost impossible to legislate for because it any course of action has too many potentially harmful outcomes. On one side, I totally agree that it could be a permanent solution for a temporary problem, I agree that messy suicides are inevitably selfish, leaving trauma and stress for those who find them and those who mourn them, and I’m also really concerned about the pressure it would put on vulnerable people if assisted suicide became mainstream. On the other hand, I used to work in a hospice, and the staff occasionally made comments about wishing they could just use to pillow to ease someone through the pain … this is people who see the needless agony in delaying death on a daily basis. I don’t know what the answer is but I can’t see assisted suicide as being blanket ‘wrong’.

    • The political is always personal. Last month I visited my friend in hospital. With cancer in three places, she was on palliative care only, and at times was insensible, and at times curled up in pain. And when I saw her she was alert, her hair brushed, as well presented as possible: I was glad to see her, and she seemed glad too. To deny her the moment being overwhelmed by pain is also to deny her (and me) that experience.

      But- I want assisted suicide thought through and done formally. Society kills someone. We don’t load that on the rellies.

      BTW I had a like from Keithnoback, whom I think came from your post on him. He seems sincere to me.

      • Yes, I think we probably agree. And about Keith, I’ll have to concede that his writing goes over my head in places and is just odd to my palate in others. I still really like it though, not like any other blog I’ve come across. It’s not rude to suggest someone’s a troll, is it? SOM didn’t seem to mind …

  5. This is an interesting question that societies have wrestled with for millennia… There was only one thing I wanted to add. Committing suicide is not always selfish. And it is very hard to determine to do it and carry it through, so I would not want to call suicides cowards, though I know about that too.

    Ultimately I would not want to die prematurely, now, because I know that suicide is not an escape hatch, and every day is a new opportunity…..

    Thanks for this post, Clare. :-))

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