Friday, 6 January 2012

Assisted dying

I have very mixed views on the topic of assisted suicide and the video above, of Jeremy Paxman interviewing Terry Pratchett, gives food for thought on both sides of the debate. I found it moving when Paxman asked about the sanctity of life and Pratchett answered with his thoughts about  the dignity of life. I do believe that life is precious, that it is sacred - I also believe that quality of life is sometimes more important than the quantity of life; that life "at any cost" may in itself be demeaning. I am not sure we ever have the "right" to take a life or to take our own lives - at the same time I worry that it is a form of barbarism to compel people to live when their lives may have become unbearable.  I prefer the idea of offering support and good palliative care to the terminally ill -  and yet I strongly suspect that even the best palliative care cannot offer adequate relief from suffering and distress in some cases. In short, I am a mass of contradictions on this matter, it is one of those moral issues which presents itself to me in shades of grey rather than in black and white.

I do believe that those who support assisted dying are generally compassionate and believe that to offer people this option enhances human dignity. I would not be able to call such people "murderers", even if I disagreed with their reasoning. Indeed, I know people who support the right to die - often as a result of witnessing the suffering of loved ones- and they are not "murderous" people. Fortunately, I have never had personal experience of the kind of degenerative diseases that lead people to advocate the right to die. I am reluctant to speak out strongly on issues such as this one when I am in many ways ignorant and have not been personally affected. I can also safely say that I sincerely hope I remain untouched by an issue so fraught with pain and anguish for all my days and I hesitate to judge those who have not been so fortunate.


  1. I am glad you chose to post on this Sue.
    It is worrying that this commission is not independent and Nick Baines has a good post on this - see link below

    This link provides further background information which might be helpful.

    and I find these arguments against assisted suicide compelling


  2. Suem, I think most of this are personally touched by this issue at some point in our lives, which is why it is so important to think through the ethics of this. I do agree that supporters of assisted dying are generally compassionate, but I think that suffering should be met with compassionate care not killing. I certainly don't think that life should be prolonged at all cost. I think individuals should have (as they do) the right to refuse treatment that would unnecessarily prolong life when dying. I come from a position of wanting to uphold the idea of the sanctity of human life as a gift of God, not ours to take away. This is my basis for also wanting to respect the dignity of human life and do everything possible (except deliberate killing) to relieve suffering. I've written about this on my blog as you know.

  3. I think there is no doubt that Falconer is coming from a biased stance (he supports assisted dying) but then so is the Christian Medical Fellowship writing from a biased stance as well. The BMJ is more neutral, although it is, I believe, supportive of the status quo on this one. Yet, the BMJ has been criticised by Christian, pro-life groups, for being too "supportive" of assisted dying (because they have allowed both sides to be aired, despite being largely against!)
    I think that is part of my problem. I am largely opposed to assisted dying, but I do see very one sided arguments (especially on the Christian and pro-life side) which rather make me lose respect for the integrity and coherence of those views. As I said, despite my general opposition to AD, I cannot see the matter as a black and white issue. I think I will remain that way.

  4. I think relatively few of us are likely to ask someone to help us die, or to have that request made to us, Nancy. Until we have been in that position, I don't think we can claim to have been truly touched by this issue.