Following on from yesterday’s sad story about Tony Nicklinson, my mind went back to the story of Michael Wenham, who has motor neurone disease. but whose attitude is the opposite of Nicklinson’s despair.
Michael queried in an article recently the understanding of ‘dignity’ in the media. He says “‘Dignity’ itself is another word which is in danger of being hijacked. Why is taking a lethal dose more dignified than bravely, perhaps painfully, putting up with a disability or a terminal disease until the end? Is there less intrinsic dignity in being dependent than being in control? If so, it has dire implications for how we regard many of our fellow humans – as dignity has at its root the concept of worth.”
His experience has taught him some unexpected lessons, he says.
- Life is a gift, not a ‘right’.
- There’s a freedom over not having control. He’s letting go of ‘choice’ (another unexamined buzz word, in my opinion) and starting to welcome ‘chance’.
- He is discovering, he says, that an increasingly limited life can paradoxically be an increasingly rich one. And he concludes:
“I suspect that our society’s insistence on rights and on personal autonomy, of which the campaign for assisted suicide is a symptom, is progressively impoverishing all our lives, as well as endangering some. I believe we need to beware and to speak up.”
Well, he should know.
His book about his experience of MND is called ‘My Donkeybody – Living with a body that no longer obeys you’. (Monarch Books, with an introduction by Canon Andrew White, the ‘Vicar of Baghdad’, who has MS)
Michael also has a website http://mydonkeybody.blogspot.co.uk/ He writes about his meeting with Tony last year. He pointed out to Tony that he had a legal right to refuse treatment, simply to have palliative care, and that would have enabled his death. Tony refused this option.
Do those of us who do not have to live with major disabilities have the right to decide the fate, or otherwise, of those people who do? And looking at the wider context, what do the Paralympics have to say to this discussion?