Assisted Suicide – Yes or No?

There has been much in the Press recently about mercy killings and assisted suicide, and for some it remains taboo while others are in favour. Is it right? Is it justified? These are questions each individual must answer for themselves, but a consensus is necessary before it can be accepted or rejected in the public domain.

Most governments, with perhaps the exception of Switzerland, are afraid to pass laws that would specifically allow or disallow such a practice for fear of either upsetting the Church or under-mining public morality. In most countries that have addressed this issue, the laws are vague to the extent that people trapped in such a position do not know whether to take the risk or not. Only the brave, and those with a deep love for the afflicted dare defy the law, and there are cases enough where this has happened with the relative ending up in jail as a result. It is sad indeed, that in England at least, you  get double the prison sentence for assisted suicide than you do for cold-blooded murder.

Those with the view that human life is ‘sacred’ jump on their high horse and proclaim loudly that it is immoral and amounts to murder, but is it? I imagine you cannot make an objective decision on this subject unless you have experienced it yourself. The old saying; “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’ comes to mind.

There are many among us who have a terminally ill loved one suffering intolerable pain every minute of every day with death being the only release. My deepest sympathy goes out to each and every one, for the majority of us can only try and imagine what the patient and relatives are going through.

If we see an animal suffering we are quick to reach for a gun or club to put it ‘out of its misery’, but when it comes to a fellow human being we have a mental block that will not allow us to provide the same mercy. To me this is a truly weird twist of the human psyche.

Most of us cannot really imagine what it must be like to live every day suffering excruciating pain, because I think you really have to experience it to realise how dreadful it must be. For the wives, husbands, parents and other relatives of the afflicted, the pain may only be emotional but it is every bit as hard to bear.

There can surely be no greater torture than to watch a dearly beloved slowly fading away, wracked with pain as the body is slowly devoured by some terrible disease. And yet, by the laws of the land we are forced to watch this suffering day after day with no hope of respite.

It is true the Church has voiced its opposition to assisted suicide and mercy killing, but in my view, God is not God if he inflicts such terrible suffering on a family. True, there are exceptions in the form of criminals and mass-murderers, or those guilty of genocide for example, whom people would gladly condemn to the Fires of Hell and think nothing of it, and quite probably God would too, but surely that does not apply to nice ‘Mr. Johnson’ down the street who never hurt anyone? Does it? If as the Church tells us, God is merciful enough that he will forgive a serial killer who asks for Redemption, then why would that same God inflict long-term misery on a ‘good’ person? With such an argument I do not believe the Church can justify its objection.

So far as the moral issues are concerned, we only have to look at a comparison with animals. When a horse is seriously injured it is put down, the same as a pet dog or cat. There is no hue and cry or moral outrage, because after all, it’s only an animal and we feel it is our ‘Duty’ to end it’s suffering. How strange we cannot think along these lines with one of our own kind! By these standards, we are making it very plain that it is perfectly acceptable for  a human being to suffer, but not for an animal. I fail to see the logic.

The medical profession is of course deeply involved in the debate, because doctor’s are invariably involved in the process of a terminally ill patient committing assisted suicide by perhaps turning off essential life support apparatus, or giving a lethal injection. Many do not support the idea of helping people to die as it goes against their professional ethics, but there are an equal number who feel that it is irresponsible to stand by and watch someone suffer unnecessarily. I believe it is for every doctor to search his conscience and decide.

After a time of controversy concerning high profile mercy killing cases in Britain over the past decade, the government has finally ‘set out its stall’ on the question. In new official guidelines released yesterday, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Kier Starmer said they are putting “more emphasis on the motivation of the suspect” and will also “place less emphasis on the health of the victim – as to whether they are terminally ill”. Watch out if you have a fortune and a greedy relative when you catch a cold. Mr. Starmer also said the new rule also “removes the reference to husbands and wives or close friends being less likely to be prosecuted because of their close relationship to the victim”.

The government insist the new rules do not open the floodgates for euthanasia in Britain but rather provide a framework for prosecutors to work with. In other words they are still ‘sitting on the fence’!

What the law really needs is a a clear set of guidelines that are designed to allow assisted suicide by whatever means, but provide sufficient safeguards for the person concerned to ensure they have not been manipulated by unscrupulous individuals for their own gain. It would appear the Swiss could have the correct formula by ensuring that a minimum of three doctors agree there is no hope of significant change in the patients condition, and that consent is given by the patient and close relatives.

Whatever happens in the coming years, it would be nice if we all have the right to die with our dignity intact.

Roy.


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