Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Grown-Up Debates R4 Other Countries

Maybe you saw the recent “Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die” documentary on BBC2. Perhaps you’ve commented on it on some forum somewhere. If you have commented then the chances are you didn’t watch the documentary but have instead been told a comforting lie to bolster your way of thinking. 

   For those who care and for the far greater number who couldn’t really give a damn let me point out some of the factors missed or glossed over by other commentators.

   Suicide is legal in this country.

   Seriously. Hasn’t been a crime since the early sixties. You can’t be prosecuted for attempting it (although repeated unsuccessful attempt may push a medical professional to diagnose a case of mental instability).

   This is suicide we’re talking about. Suicide by healthy people who are suffering a loss (bereavement, loss of income or position, just been dumped) is commonly attempted but is still not a crime. If life is sacred then why aren’t the religious or the ethically baffled attempting to redress this decision? Is it because you’ve been diverted onto this issue because the ill and infirm represent a trickier body of subjects into whom you can interject your weak arguments?

   (Hang on, Trev.  You sound awfully cross about this. Steady on. Some people have perfectly valid views about assisted dying. You shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss them.)





Ok, let’s make this fair. Take out the word “valid” ...


“People might feel undue pressure to end their lives.”

Where is the evidence to support this claim? There are several countries in Europe and two states in America that allow assisted dying. There is plenty of data to scour for figures to support that claim. Those figures do not exist.*

People already feel pressure to end their lives and still attempt it in horrific ways, often unsuccessfully. The evidence suggests that this is actually alleviated by the option of suicide being available. The comfort of the possibility of a controlled end with dignity can allow people to choose hospice or palliative care. The existence of Dignitas correlates with an increase in spending in these areas. Switzerland is talking about the difficult subject and everybody wins (a qualified win – sure – but a win nonetheless).

“Life is sacred.”

That’s your opinion. Can you be sure you wouldn’t change your mind if tortured by a degenerative condition for years? Still, even if you are unshakeable that life is sacred – your life still is. Nobody is forcing you to drink the poison. If you are of the opinion that people who disagree with you don’t know any better and should be protected from their ignorance then that is totalitarian thinking and unacceptable.

“If we allow this then where will it end?”

Seriously? Disability activist Liz Carr kept returning to this one and only argument in the after show debate. I was stunned. Disabled people rarely get a voice in the youth-driven, beauty obsessed media. I was appalled to see one of the disabled voices on that show talking out of her arse.

If you have evidence for this “slipping into eugenics” of which you are so fearful then let’s see it. If you don’t then it’s just a slippery slope fallacy and beneath you.

“We should only talk about terminal illnesses and they’re dying soon anyway.”

“Soon” is a very subjective term. And people have been chuffed about the term “weary of life” used to describe 20% of the subjects who die at Dignitas. “Look, there are a few glum teenagers – Goths, probably – who end it all. They would have gone on to discover High School Musical and Jesus if they had lived.” 

While that sounds to me more like an argument for suicide let me remind you that suicide is legal here. A ‘leave no mess for my parents/partner/children to clear up’ option is possibly the most debatable of the problems here but it would be allowed here. Enshrined in law. Case closed. Shut up and go home.

The Dignitas deaths described didn’t have a terminal illness. That’s all. In the debate Liz Carr tried to argue that Multiple Sclerosis isn’t terminal. I’m biting my lip not to cuss at Liz because she has usually put the time in to consider these matters but MS not being terminal is a case of semantic pissmouth. “It’s not the noose that’s going to kill you – it’s planet Earth and that pesky gravity that gets the job done.”

Please grow up. 

There are plenty of other conditions that perhaps they didn’t discuss on camera that diminish quality of life. Quality of life is a consideration in this country. It’s a measurable unit used in equations to work out NHS spending policy. Don’t imagine that it’s too ephemeral a notion to define. People are defining it but you know what? If somebody wants to stay alive ... they can still choose to. 

At the moment the best way to be allowed to die is to contract something too expensive to treat. Then consent and influence are ignored. That is a cruel reality but then people appear to have great skill in avoiding those.

   I can’t stand anecdotal arguments so I’m not going to enter into it here but I probably will on Friday when we talk about this on think/RANT. Please comment here (or there where I will probably repost this) as the scope of differing opinion between the co-hosts is fairly narrow (it's how we don't get into fights) and a few shouty but intelligent arguments would be welcome.

*The studies done in these countries and states have overwhelmingly shown a positive outcome for all involved. The meta-analyses (which root out poorly controlled studies whether they support or reject a certain outcome and collate the figures to show a larger pool of data) are even more convincing.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a good post Trev. I thought I'd draw your attention to Steven's blog post here:

    It includes a Liz Carr-esque comment and my reply.