The End

If there’s one piece of moral hypocrisy politicians are good, at it’s death. Or at least avoiding death…avoiding coming anywhere near death…avoiding even the mere mention of death. No, nothing to do with me, guv. Death? Doesn’t happen in my constituency.

The issue of assisted dying has become compromised by the Big Excuse – the denial that there is any need for such an unconscionable act, followed by the Washing-of-Hands by those who claim they are in politics to help or, God Forbid, to lead.

Generations of hand-ringing politcos have given the proverbial body swerve to a sane and logical decision on the Death Question in order to keep themselves ‘untainted’ by it. Meanwhile week after week some poor soul faces the end in agony and misery wondering why compassion only applies to those who, in some unforeseen future, may or may not feel pressure from a venal family to end it all soon. Let’s reserve our mercy for those we don’t know and who may never need it rather than ease the way for one of our own today.

There are many versions of what we mean by assisted dying and as the debate has evolved, so have the complexities, medical, legal and moral.Yet the fundamental question remains: Is it right to allow another human in terminal trauma to suffer grievously when they are asking for an early death? Indeed, is it our right – that of society – to deny the mercy of suicide to anyone in irreversible distress?

The answer to both questions of course is No. It is not right and we don’t have the right to stand aside in the face of slow and agonising death. Not only is that glaringly obvious to anyone except the self-declared religious zealots who demand the Bible is read literally but it is also the apparent view of the overwhelming number of British citizens who time and again support a change in the law – 82 per cent at the last count. (Populus 2015)

I don’t mean to offend those of you who religious belief (although it didn’t stop the official spokesman of the Catholic Church insulting me publicly when I wrote previously about this). A deeply-held is just that. But by what right do you stop me having access to mercy because of your beliefs? That isn’t faith, it’s dogmatism.

The other key objections to dignity in death relate to human nature which might drive impatient families to nudge a loved one into suicide or make the sufferer feel guilty for remaining alive. This argument provides an illuminating light into the mind of deniers, bending as it does to base instinct rather than humanity. It’s like saying: I can’t trust myself not to egg a loved one on into suicide because I stand to benefit from the will. The temptation will be too much.

I once had an online discussion with a philosopher on the subject. He played the compassion card and declared how much he cared for those in suffering. He just couldn’t do the one thing they wanted that would end their suffering. It seemed to me it was easy in the abstract and hard to disagree – who wants to help kill another human? So the final question asked was: Would you feel the same if it was your daughter…your wife…your mother pleading for relief? To this there is no answer other than: I would do anything to end their suffering. And so you would.

This is not a plan to rid us wholsesale of the terminally ill almost all of whom have a dignified and, as far as possible, a peaceful death in hospice care. That is, in its own way, an easing out of life and with the expertise gathered over the years it provides the right service for the majority. But science isn’t perfect and for some no cocktail of drugs can ease the pain and end the distress.

Even the courts are moving steadily towards accepting that there are conditions which in some cases could justify the right of a loved one to help a stricken individual to end their life. But again, it goes back to the politicians and fear of their own judgement in a mirror image of their terror of accepting that drug addiction can be handled differently. These are, for most legislators, no-go areas where the people they represent will just have to suffer in silence. Turn the other way and pretend it isn’t true isn’t much of a message.

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27 thoughts on “The End

  1. Because we already have assisted death in the shape of compassionate Doctors the politicians can cross their fingers hoping it keeps working thus absolving them of decision making until those same doctors make a mistake giving the same politicians the excuse to revisit the issue negatively without causing political damage to themselves

    Damned if you do and damned if you don’t and unfortunately that’s a political decision and not many politicians want to go down in history as having taken one of those

    • You think you would. You might have discussed it in the past and expressed the desire for someone to pull the plug if you were hooked up – but I can tell you this. When push comes to shove, they are still the person you love and you still hope thinngs can improve – and you cannot do it. When it is taken out of your hands and the doctors do it instead – you cannot view it other than murder.

      • Oh come on Kate. In this case, the medication is not administered. It’s taken by the sufferer. And murder requires malice of forethought – a malign intent to kill agains someone’s wishes, the opposite thing. This language doesn’t help.

  2. When it comes to non human family members,responsible owners would never allow a creature to have it’s suffering prolonged and ensure that the end of life was done in a timely,humane and dignified manner.
    What’s the difference?
    Doctors used to ease suffering and bring about a humane outcome until the legal profession got involved as a result of a few high profile abuses of position by one or two individuals.
    So long as there is a recognised process for family and professionals to agree then we should allow this to happen.

  3. Great article Derek. Just over a year ago my mother was in hospital dying from along term illness Sitting next to her bed for two days she begged for me to put her out of her misery and I would have had no hesitation to administer any drug that would have done it but could not. She had signed a DNR but had to wait until day 3 to allow removal of all treatment. Within 30 minutes of a palliative care nurse administering a drug to ease her suffering she died. Three days of torture. If she had been my dog the SSPCA would have prosecuted me.

  4. Not to mention of course Holyrood wasn’t any better or braver. I was just as disgusted at their anti-democratic ways back then as I am at WM. Our politicians are too scared of the press and being hounded by the religious fundies to do what a clear majority of the public want.

  5. David Hume’s essay on suicide was the clincher for me. A great philosophical argument for the legitimacy of suicide. We call it selfless sacrifice if we give up our lives to save another; push someone from the path of a falling rock that they were unaware of. Going over the top of the trenches into near certain death is deemed noble, but ending your own suffering be it physical or mental is shameful? Nonsense. Yes, safeguards should be put in place to protect the vulnerable otherwise a free thinking person must decide their own fate.

  6. Assisted dying has to be the most obvious political issue where our elected representatives are most at odds with public opinion.

    Despite huge campaigns & pressure applied to have the public’s wishes reflected, humanity & those in suffering are told to lump it.

    Shamefully, Holyrood is as culpable as Westminster.

    When will our politicians just grow up?

  7. When my time comes I will decide when it’s time for me to go. I will NOT be influenced by either family members or self-seeking, “mustn’t damage my chances of re-election by the reaction of the God-botherers”, MPs. My final comment to the cowardly MPs who voted the motion down, it’s not about YOU, it’s about the people who are dying in unimaginable agony and lack of dignity, shitting into nappies. Well done – I hope you manage to sleep tonight – NOT!

  8. Reading the Bible literally would not give anyone material to oppose assisted dying. There is a strong tradition in Christianity of aspiration to a “good death”, and the Bible looks to remove the fear of death. Despite the impression given by your opponents, it is not at all cut and dried from the faith side. But to describe how is another essay in itself. I can think of two suicides in the Bible, both in desperation: Saul and Judas. Neither instance is comparable to what has been under discussion.

  9. A problem with some of these comments is the assumption that,near the end,you will be in a position to make rational independent choices.
    Unfortunately,for many,that is not the case and you will be left to linger on whether you like it or not.
    The fact that we find this acceptable behaviour with regard to humans but not animals is complete hypocrisy.

  10. Couldn’t agree more Derek.

    As much as 80% of the public are in favour of a change in the law.

    This is about the fundamental issue of autonomy at the most important stage of your life.

    The politicians north and south have been spineless in my view.

    As you say those of religious persuasion are entitled to their views but why should these views be imposed on all of us?

    For me it’s fundamental that if I am terminally ill I should be able to choose the time of my death, where it happens and who is present. And society should be prepared to allow that to happen in a humane and peaceful manner.

    • Venal Family Member

      I think you’ll find Derek, that EVERYONE’S death is lonely and agonizing. You just have to deal with it. You can practice your iconic liberal poses in your full length mirror till the cows come home and moo, but in the end, all this talk of radical change is so much rationalization. To paraphrase GK Chesterton, it may start with getting rid only of people who are a nuisance to themselves, but make no mistake, it WILL end with getting rid of those who are a nuisance to the rest of us. Why do you suppose the UK has such a massive abortion rate despite having – on paper – restrictive abortion laws? Because it’s just easier.

      You think you’re immune to siren thoughts of “dignified” endings for family members whose deaths would free and enrich you? Guess again. Preferably, guess AFTER you’ve spent a few years as full time carer to a feeble and increasingly incontinent parent who relies on you for everything, but whose life is worth not one farthing less than your own. You wouldn’t believe the thoughts that go through your head. I know – I didn’t when I started having them, and I guarantee you won’t have the face to look at yourself in that mirror of yours again.

      • Thanks. I have direct personal experience of nursing someone until death.
        Not keen on lectures from those hiding behind anonymity

        • Venal Family Member

          Yet curiously, you seem to have no problems with anonymous posters who see things your way. You started this debate; don’t complain about what you drag up in the net.

        • Venal Family Member

          I haven’t set out to insult you, I’ve merely answered you with the same passion with which you habitually make your own case, whatever the topic. From the other side, that kind of certainty is really annoying, isn’t it? And as somebody with “direct personal experience of nursing someone until death”, you’ll appreciate why anonymity is necessary. Won’t you?

          For those who don’t, it’s because aged and incontinent parents tend to suffer extreme embarrassment when their offspring identify themselves as the children of frail and incontinent parents.

          • Then say that when you post if you have a reason for anonymity. Re-read the original post which isn’t meant ‘to insult’. Sorry to hear you have such thoughts about a parent but what difference does the law make? Any carer with a frail person is in a position to end their life with impunity irrespective. In any case, the law under discussion needs independent medical approval and a six month life expectancy or shorter. That’s what the Commons voted on. And if a person is very old and infirm and unable to function and needs constant attention just to survive, doesn’t that raise a question?

        • Venal Family Member

          The law is important because it reflects the attitudes of the society it serves. If it’s telling people that sending their parents over the Jordan is the right way to go when they start feeling towards them what your parents must have felt towards you when you were screaming for you feed at three o’clock in the morning, then that’s one more pressure on a carer.

          Either life has intrinsic value or it doesn’t. If it does, you defend it, and when you do, you extend it. Perhaps we ought to remember the stick Scotland took over the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi who lived three years when doctors gave him three months because he was surrounded by family. And then perhaps we should remember the kind of people who were outraged that he lived so long. You need to think about who you’re sitting down with on this one.

          • My life, my choice?

            You may think autonomy has no place here where as I think it trumps all.

            Your view seems quite “black and white”. I am glad you have such certainty. You are lucky. I don’t and my life is endless grey.

            Of course life has intrinsic value but so too does the nature of ones death. The two are not mutually exclusive.

            It should not be life at all costs unless people choose it to be that way for themselves.

            If I am dying and know that I am I want to have as much control as I can about where and when. Afterall it’s the last thing I will ever have control over.

            My life, my death, my choice.

            And no need to tell me how wrong you think I am or how much you disagree – I get that already.

    • Steve Asaneiean,
      I’m sure I’ve read before you know the NHS well so perhaps you will understand this view better? if the decision is made and Doctors will be allowed to ‘ assist early death’ and with apparently 80% of the public agreeing to it -who will actually administer the final injection , drink , NG feed?
      It won’t be doctors will it , it will be nurses .
      Nurses who are trained yearly to try to prevent sepsis , maintain or try to improve outcomes, carry out CPR , yet in between answering a buzzer or help someone to the toilet , go and administer something that would end someone’s life before going for your tea – no Thanks.
      There is a debate to be had but it’s about death itself. There is a huge leap between being given a diagnosis and being able to discuss what you wish to happen , what treatment you want , how you would wish your life to end than rushing to ‘ the end’ point.
      Many many of the public still struggle with discussing illness (at whatever age ) far less death. For some it is just not the done thing, for a lot it is something that will happen eventually but don’t need to worry about it yet and for some it is blocking out what appears to be rushing towards them . Each one of us have our own views on death.
      Most of us ( even the professionals ) struggle to sit down and discuss death with a loved one. Sometimes someone who has had a diagnosis is in a ‘ place ‘ to discuss ‘ the end’ but the family are not .
      By all means a discussion is to be had about ‘ assisted suicide’ but please don’t put the cart before the horse and please don’t enact such a policy because a survey States most are in favour .
      If you agree with the right fair enough but sit down for two minutes and seriously think what you are asking people to do . It ain’t the movies , it’s a life

      • Hi PQsCPRTeam – I think you havethe wwrong end of the stick.

        The Bills put forward in both Holyrood and Westminster were about assisted dying.

        What you are alluding to is euthanasia. I don’t support that nor did either of the Bills.

        Both were in agreement that the person wishing to end their life would have to consume the lethal dose by their own hands – it couldn’t be done to them.

        The health professionals would only be required to agree that the person was competent to make the decision and prescribe the relevant medication and pronoince death.

        None would be compelled to be involved and therefore involvement would be voluntary.

      • Sorry for typos – I am mobile on my mobile 🙂

        On my way to Syria vigil…

  11. Humerous Vegetable

    Personally, have decided to have species realignment surgery in this event, and get myself declared as a dug or cat, so somebody can take me to the vet, with no legal implications to themselves.

  12. The problem I have with this ‘ debate’ is the same as we all faced during the referendum . The one-sidedness of the MSM – for the most part concentrating on individual cases . Only by searching out other views including those of major disabilities groups throughout UK did I discover that , if I understood correctly, all were opposed . surely their stories and very real fears of where this might lead for them personally deserve equal coverage . It may also have passed many folk by that hospices have grave concerns about losing staff who don’t feel they can be part of this change . The funding of hospices and palliative care is a whole other area for discussion that in my opinion doesn’t get enough airing . I recently finished a fascinating book on death and dying called Being Mortal – written by a doctor forgotten his name sorry . Highly recommend it as it highlights our general inability ( including the medical profession) to talk honestly about death/ end of life care.

  13. In my view the medical profession already take part in assisting death. Though not in a nice way.

    Don’t get me wrong, in no way do they intend to prolong suffering but regardless it comes about. I’ll explain.

    My brother passed away 6 months ago due to lung cancer, at the end he was not alone and had family members with him through every minute, we shared his suffering. He could not eat or drink so was on a drip, this was taken away after he signed a DNR 2 days before he died. I sponged his mouth and lips with a swab after this.

    I knew what was happening and so did he, and that’s the important thing, it’s what he wanted, though surely there has to be a better way.

    All support was removed and he was allowed (left) to die. There was no point in prolonging the agony, but the last 24 hours or so must have been absolute agony for him. If I had to administer a drug myself to relieve his suffering, I would have.

    We all have a right to expect compassion and dignity throughout life, there is no dignity in dying of thirst.

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