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Friday, 19 November 2010

Why is Assisted Suicide Illegal?

Terry PratchettCover of Terry Pratchett
It has long struck me that the ‘authorities’ take serious liberties with us as individuals. Don’t we all ‘own’ our lives? If we don’t have control over the outcome of our lives, then what do we really have that we can call ours?
My assumption (and I’m ready to be corrected on this) is that the major religions see our lives as ‘gifts’ from their particular gods and therefore not something we should be allowed to spend as we wish. But, for those of us who don’t have a god complex, and see no need of some divine power to oversee our existence, this requirement for servile gratitude to a higher power as an imposition. When such belief is enshrined in law to make our lives the property of the State, it becomes more than an imposition; it infringes our rights.
I believe that our life here is the one and only, and there is no afterlife in any sense that we can understand. We have one chance to live, or not to live, as we will. So, it’s perfectly logical and sensible for us to determine the manner, time and place of our death, when we are given that opportunity.
Of course such a liberty would be abused, and of course some individuals would use such freedom to end the lives of others and disguise this as a self-administered demise. But such evil behaviour already exists regardless of such freedoms. And, of course, it is a given, in my view, that a decision to end your life is taken under the understanding that you have considered the feelings and needs of those who love and depend on you.
We have the means to prolong life artificially, frequently by placing the individual into an impossible position over which he or she has no control. We keep alive mere shells. If you don’t believe me, visit any accommodation devoted to the preservation of the elderly demented. You will see there the remains of people who once were vital, alive and whole, people who could contribute and lead full lives before their demise. They exist only as shades of their former selves with no awareness of who they are or what is happening around them. The very essence of being human is the capacity for self-awareness. Once that has left, the shell is no more than meat. We hear so often, ‘You wouldn’t treat an animal that way.’ And, of course, we wouldn’t and don’t. It seems we reserve this living hell for the humans we love. It seems a strange form of love to me. And, I suspect this form of ‘caring’ has more to do with the needs of the carers than with the poor individuals in their care.
I have no wish to linger on this Earth once I’ve lost the capacity to think. It haunts me to imagine that I might be made to drift on in an unliving existence once my mind has gone, so I’ve signed an Advance Decision (available from Dignity in Dying) to ensure that I’m not kept alive artificially once that time comes. And I’ve made clear to my wife and my daughter my wishes in this regard.
Dignity in Dying has patrons as well-known and respected as Sir Terry Pratchett, Jasper Conran, Sir Terence English, the Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt, Ian McEwan CBE, The Rev. Prof Paul Badham and Janet Suzman, to name but a few. According to a recent survey, 92% of non-religious and 71% of religious people support assisted dying, but there is a vociferous counter argument to such compassion coming mostly from the extreme religious community who sponsor the Resistance Campaign with a Charter opposed to any help for those who are dying in agony. And some 50 or more MPs have signed the charter; these are people who are suppose to represent the views of their constituents, yet they are arrogant enough to go against the wishes of the 80% of the population who want a change to the law to allow assisted suicide in the UK. If you want to challenge your MP on this issue, I advise you to go to http://www.writetothem.com/ , where you will find links to your MP via your postcode. If you visit Dignity in Dying first, you'll have an idea of how to go about this. We have a situation at present which allows those who are dying in pain to be kept that way for as long as is humanly possible, on the spurious grounds that we are somehow not qualified to make a decision about the end of life for ourselves.
I’d far rather be able to legally decide the date of my death. That way I could plan it, inform those who cared that it was going to happen, and prevent the inevitable shock and distress that comes with the unexpected death of a loved one. Seems far more civilised to me than this dreadful habit we’ve developed of clinging to life at any cost, regardless of its real worth. Surely the measure of life is its quality, not its quantity?
Let me go when I’m ready to go, and remove the legal barrier that currently makes it a crime. My life is just that; mine. It belongs not to the State, not to any religion, not to any god you care to name. It is mine, mine alone, and should be mine to end when I so desire.
I know many people will be troubled, incensed even, by these thoughts. I’m sorry for that, but it doesn’t make my case any less valid. If you’re one of those who believes we are the children of some divine power, prove it to me. Not by quoting passages from dubious sacred works (such books are the words of man, not of any divine being, and therefore of no more value than any other story) but by demonstrating the love and concern of your creator by examples that have no negative counterparts. After all, any creator with a concern for the created can hardly be considered a positive force if what is created is also destroyed with equal energy and disdain.
I’d love your feedback on this topic.
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