Tony Nicklinson died today, 22nd August 2012. I read that he has died of pneumonia and starvation just six days on from, and in shocking juxtaposition to, the denial of his right-to-die in a verdict that bounced the responsibility for making any decision on this back to Parliament.
A man of sound mind has felt compelled to starve himself to death in 21st century Britain and we say what? How dreadful for his family. RIP. He’s at peace at last. It’s for the greater good. We must protect the vulnerable. Or worse, that he was wrong to take his own life .. he made a weak choice? How judgemental, smug and complacent we are. I feel shame and I am sure others do too.
Was this man not also one of the 'vulnerable' we seek to protect? Vulnerable not in mind but completely so in body. Yet, we would watch him starve to death rather than ease his suffering whilst wringing our hands and arguing for the 'greater good'. This is barbaric, uncivilised and surely not our only choice. In 2009, I wrote the following on the denial of right-to-die legislation:
Even when couched in terms of being for the greater good, we are consequently forcing some individuals to die, in a manner that horrifies them, because of our assumed certainty to know what is best. We accept the suffering of the minority as being justified for the ‘greater good’ [but] isn't this unbelievably arrogant and lacking in both compassion and understanding?
... To prioritise an assumed greater good position as a basis to ignore minority views here is nefarious as, in reality, the issue will always be an abstract one for the greater number of us. Where is our humanity for those who suffer and our humility about our own righteousness?
Allowing a right to die, with appropriate assistance, to a very small number of people who are suffering greatly is not, and should not be seen as, a slippery slope to forced euthanasia for the elderly, sick or disabled. It does not mean we do not value life - all life...
I think the law on this should be changed to legislate against ill doing, malicious intent and hasty or ill-informed decision-making but beyond this - NO. If, in extreme circumstances, we choose to end our suffering and need assistance, is this not solely a matter for the individual, our loved ones and our doctors.
I stand by most of this but, in one crucial respect, I have changed my mind. I no longer believe that the right to die should be adopted on principle because I accept the argument that this, for many reasons, will make it difficult, if not impossible, to protect the lives of a wider body of vulnerable people than the few who, in extremis and of sound mind, wish to end their own. I would amend my final paragraph, from above, to read:
I think the law on this should be changed to allow an exemption, on a case by case basis, for the individual of sound mind, who is otherwise incapable, to appropriate responsibility from the state for their right to die at a time, in a place and by the method of their own choosing, subject to agreement by suitably qualified medical personnel.
On compassionate grounds, I will never be able to accept that those already living lives unimaginable to most of us should be forced to live and then die, in a manner abhorrent to them, to support the 'greater good' of those who live life under different circumstances.
Society does not trespass on the physical automony of the able-bodied individual in this way and it should not do so for those who are physically disabled either. Of sound mind, such individuals come to us not for judgement but facilitation and, in the face of each individual that we condemn to such suffering, we must surely question our law, our senses and our certitude with compassion.
It should not be beyond the wit and wherewithal of a civilised society and parliament to devise law which protects the majority and allows compassion on an individual basis. Compassion for the individual within the protection of a wider legal framework for society. Surely, this is what we all strive for. How many more people must we assign to an agonising death before we get it? Please let Tony Nicklinson be the last.