Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Assisted suicide - no easy answers

Back on January 18th in my post Gay rights victory reflects path of social change, I concluded with the thought: “I won’t be here to see it but it makes me wonder where the law will stand 50 years from now on those burning issues of today currently for the most part illegal, – euthanasia, drug use, and prostitution.”
I should have been explicit where I was implicit in my belief that to some degree all three will become legal one day – given adequate safeguards.
This requirement – the seriously ill, drug users, and sex industry workers allowed to do what they wish with their own bodies free from external pressures – is, however much more easily said than done.
The reassessment was prompted by Sir Terry Pratchett’s BBC 2 documentary Choosing to Die last night.
The author, who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Syndrome, is a determined campaigner for the introduction into the UK of assisted suicide - where those who help people wishing to die face no legal sanction.
To further this cause in one of television’s most controversial programmes viewers joined Pratchett to watch motor neurone sufferer Peter Smedley end his life at the Dignitas organisation in Zurich.
It didn’t bother me that the ‘show’ was a 60 minute commercial for assisted suicide. It was Pratchett’s polemic after all and he wasn’t obliged to give air time to opposing views.
The documentary, however, would have raised concerns about assisted suicide in fair-minded viewers even though it was propaganda.
Here is not the place to examine the various forms the procedure could take but rather the abuse to which the vulnerable could become exposed.
Families – perhaps at the end of their tether and money – might apply mental pressure on a sick but not dying member they should end their life. Long-term hospital patients could be made to feel they are hogging a bed and medical budgets. There may be those blighted by deep depression where therapy and/or religion might provide a more appropriate palliative for their troubles than lethal poison.
An intolerable burden would be placed on British doctors, as they would be central to any moves to introduce assisted suicide into the UK.
Perhaps they should be given more legal protection to help the dying towards a pain-free exit, which many do tacitly already with increased morphine doses and the like. How much better than a lingering death by dehydration, which makes me shudder every time I think about it.


  1. No person can be allowed to assist another to die. That is murder. Suicide is itself illegal.

  2. I can't speak for your part of the world but in the UK the law was amended to decriminalise suicide in 1961. The debate here now is whether assisting in a suicide remains murder. GC

  3. In my part of the world suicide is still illegal, particularly suicide bombers; and more perticularly "assisted".

  4. Assisted suicide cannot be foolproofed against abuse.


What do you think? GC