I’m terminally ill, but I still don’t want assisted dying in Britain
Removing the taboo on suicide would further jeopardise the vulnerable. I don’t want to live in a country which elevates cash over life
It’s so obviously reasonable — and kind. You wouldn’t let your dog suffer if there was no hope, would you? “It’s quite wrong that only people who can afford it and have the emotional wherewithal and the support to do it have this choice [to end their lives in Switzerland],” Lord Falconer said on ITV News.
Thirteen years ago I was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. The type I have is called primary lateral sclerosis: rare, and slower than others, but still terminal. Over time my life has become progressively more restricted. No more walking in Snowdonia and the Lake District; no more camping with the family in France; no more squash, or cycling, or gardening.
I stopped working. We had to move to a smaller house with a lift and a small garden. My wife, who had now become my sole carer, didn’t have time to spend mowing lawns and growing beans. She is occupied getting me dressed and undressed, meeting my needs from toilet to teatime, from breakfast to bedtime.
Photo: Michael Wenham
We might well be expected to support the Marris Bill to legalise assisted dying. After all, what quality of life do we have ahead of us? Wouldn’t it be something to hold on to — the possibility that when we’d both had enough we could call time?
But it’s not all about me. Society is a network of relationships, of interdependence. Our actions are never without effects. That is why life is in fact so rich. My life, when I open my eyes to look, has not been impoverished by my disabling disease; it is deeper and fuller in a way I could not have foreseen. I’m not saying it’s easier. It’s frustrating and painful; it can be depressing. But life is still good.
How is it good? I have time to sit and stare, and see things which busyness normally blinds us to, to spend time with friends and enjoy their company, to listen to new music, and family banter. I have experienced the unexpected kindness of strangers and the devoted care of my wife. I know that I am fortunate. I have just this week received the most excellent care from two of the team of NHS professionals who care for many like me in our region. And when I approach the end, which I know I shall, I expect the care to be similar.
Palliative care was pioneered in this country and is second to none. Yet it still needs improving in terms of research and spreading the provision nationwide. To introduce assisted dying would remove the impetus and divert resources from such improvement by providing a cheap alternative
We are in danger of elevating cash above life. The attraction to politicians of saving money at the moment is obvious. And it’s true that the cost of good palliative care dwarfs a lethal dose of barbiturates. But I don’t want to live in a country where money matters more than life. I don’t want to live in a country where my carers might be my killers.
I wonder whether the law as it stands is “quite wrong”. The Suicide Act removed the stigma from those who tragically take their own lives, but it protected those who might be vulnerable to suggestion, to pressure or being “aided” in the deed. Sadly there are far more in need of that protection than are wanting to take their lives. Abuse of the elderly, the hospitalised, and vulnerable children is all too familiar. Often it is inflicted by those closest to the victim.
To remove the taboo of ending life would further jeopardise the vulnerable. We are quite used to laws designed to protect the many and limit the freedom of the few – for example, in matters of life and death on the road. If you choose to drive on the right, you must cross the Channel to do so. Doing it in this country would endanger too many lives.
There is a naïve belief in safeguards ensuring the safety of the many. But once a law allowing physician-assisted suicide in principle were passed, in no time it would be tested in court on grounds of discrimination. If the terminally ill with limited life expectancy, why not others with chronic and incurable diseases? Why not those tired of life? The disabled, or depressed, or those with dementia?
And what about those physically unable to commit suicide? No wonder disability organisations oppose Rob Marris’s Bill. A Pandora’s box of unintended dangerous consequences would be opened for us who suffer from chronic, terminal or disabling conditions – and ultimately for our whole society.
• Dominic Grieve: There is no legal basis for normalising suicide
Rarely is the process of dying easy. Short-circuiting it, however, merely adds to fear and militates against good dying. It would be tragic if the vulnerable many were denied compassionate end-of-life care because they had perceived themselves a burden and felt pressure to opt for euthanasia. Deliberately ending life, also known as killing, is no way to go. Expanding and investing in palliative care, which is real compassion, is the better way.