Assisted Suicide

You know, I find myself increasingly uneasy with the way that assisted suicide legal cases are being reported in the press. The tone of some of the reporting of Debbie Purdy’s legal case this week was triumphalist and as though she was some kind of freedom fighter. Whilst I do think that she has the right to know whether actions that she encourages her husband to take will lead to prosecution, I don’t think that making it easier for him to help her will necessarily lead to a greater moral good for society.

Ah, people say, but wouldn’t you want to make choices of your own if your life was so terrible, so desperate, so intolerable?

Well, that question does not trump the law and it does not trump the need to build a society in which those who are most vulnerable are most protected from harmful actions and harmful influence. Whilst I might be able to understand anyone making choices in dire circumstances, the thing I don’t want to do is live in a society which says that some lives are not worth living.

There are huge human rights issues here which are not getting picked up in the press much these days. Whenever a new legal “victory” is won by those seeking to extend the law, campaigners ask for more. The recent joint suicide of Joan Downes and Sir Edward Downes was portrayed almost as a love story in the media yet the ballyhoo did not give us much chance to reflect on the fact that one of them was not terminally ill at all. The deaths (killings?) of a composer and his wife represent a much more complex moral question than a simple love story and it is in moral complexity of that sort that all kinds of injustices for those who are most vulnerable are waiting to take us unawares.

Now, how do we get such positive coverage for those doing research into pain relief and those who need yet to campaign for better end of life care within the society we have? Diminishing pain seems to me to be unquestionably a moral good. Assisted suicide seems to me much more difficult to affirm. It is a far from satisfactory answer to what is often not right at the end of people’s lives