It is a sensitive subject which every so often appears in the news, and one of which I have not given much thought to as it is not a situation I have ever been familiar with, or found myself in.
“the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or in an irreversible coma,”
by Oxford Dictionaries online.
Other definitions add that it is also the act of “assisting that person to die” and “illegal in most countries”.
However, can any form of killing another person really be condoned, whatever the situation may be?
The law says it can not.
Euthanasia in my view is an unimaginable situation, of which there are many circumstances, which can only be considered in individual cases.
My immediate reaction to trying to think about what I’d do if I had a relative who was suffering incredibly, and had asked me to assist them in ending their life, so they would be rid of pain. Personally, I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t live with the guilt, as much as I would want to cure them of all hurt. I’d hope that they would understand my reasoning for making this decision. I recognise that it is difficult to determine how you would respond actually finding yourself in this position.
I do believe despite all of this that there is a difference between taking the decision to switch off a life support machine, and helping an individual to end their own life. The scenario of switching off the life support machine I feel is separate, as the individual connected to it, can not function and survive without it; the only thing keeping them alive is the machine itself. Whereas assisting suicide, the person can carry on living, despite their maybe poor quality of life.
The most recent euthanasia case publicised in the media was that of 58 year old Tony Nicklinson, who suffered from ‘locked-in syndrome’ as a result of a stroke during a business trip to Athens in 2005. The condition meant that he was mentally sound, but paralysed from the neck down, and unable to speak. This means that the only forms of communication he was able to use were blinking and some limited head movements. He felt he had “no ‘privacy or dignity left’ and said his right to choose life or death had been taken away”.
Tony Nicklinson described his existence as:
‘dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable’
He went on to campaign and challenge the law on murder at The High Court
The ruling he hoped to achieve was that if, and when he decides he wants to die that a doctor will be immune from prosecution if they help him.
In his own words he said…
‘I must declare an interest because I am unable to take my own life. I require amendment to the murder law to make it lawful in certain circumstances for one person to take another’s life (euthanasia) and is the substance of my imminent court hearing.
‘Despite moments of gloom at the enormity of my task, I am kept going by the fundamental injustice of my circumstances and the need for change so that others won’t have to endure such indignities if they don’t want to.
‘It is astonishing that in 1969 we could put a man on the Moon yet in 2012 we still cannot devise adequate rules governing assisted dying.’
Sadly, in August of this year the High Court ruled that a Doctor cannot be asked to help him to end his life. He lost his appeal, and the only option he had left was to starve himself to death. Soon afterwards, Tony Nicklinson died as a consequence of pneumonia, and the refusal to eat any food for several days. His widow Jane has vowed to carry on his campaign to help others, and prevent them from going through the same pain.
Read more about his story here.
My personal view is that you should be able to have the right to die, and be assisted in doing so by a Doctor and only a Doctor. If your situation means that your quality of life is compromised.
What is your view? Should people whose quality of life is poor have the right to die?
And if so how should they be able to carry out their wish?