The question of the legality of assisted suicide has re-emerged on the political landscape recently with the case of Tony Nicklinson, who used to play rugby with my dad and uncle. Mr Nicklinson has ‘locked-in syndrome’ – he is completely paralysed but his cognitive powers are unimpaired – which he developed following a stroke. He is campaigning for it to be legal for a doctor to help him die without fear of prosecution, seeing as he can not commit suicide himself. This is an extremely emotive subject but it can and should be approached with a healthy mixture of pragmatism and compassion.
With all things, it is best to start at the beginning and work towards the complication. Perhaps one of the most absurd laws in the UK is that suicide is illegal. It is easy to see that this is just stupid, as it is definitely impossible to prosecute someone who is no longer alive. Therefore, despite the law, most of the population has the basic right to end their own lives.
A simple argument follows that severely disabled people should have the same right, especially as their quality of life may be extremely poor (I’ll put in here that the second premise is not derived from the first). People seem to balk here, but I would say this is a logical argument. Politicians, under a convention of Parliament, are allowed to vote independently on such ‘moral’ issues – but ask yourself what qualifies them to do? How many of our predominantly affluent, white, male politicians have a remote ability to empathise with someone who is paralysed? I’ll tell you – none. And if this is the case, shouldn’t the paralysed or terminally ill be allowed to make their own decision? It just makes sense.
The stumbling block, of course, comes from the fear that people in these situations are vulnerable and murder could be concealed as assisted suicide. True. This is why the process should be undertaken by a professional. Not only would that reduce the risk of crime, it would remove the horrendous responsibility from a loved-one. Many people argue that the disabled person may feel that they are a burden on their families and therefore choose to die even if they feel they have a reasonable quality of life. This is also a fair point, but it can be solved with pragmatism. People should have to undergo a counselling program before making a final decision.
Although Mr Nicklinson argues that a doctor should be able to help him, this presents issues. It is a doctor’s job to preserve life – asking them to do the opposite might be very difficult. Therefore, there should be an independent and professional organisation – perhaps modelled on the Swiss Dignitas.
Many of my readers will disagree with my arguments. That is fine. But can you really convince yourself that an able-bodied person deserves more choice than a disabled person? Unless you would like to swap positions with a paralysed man, pause. Think.