The sanctity of (every) life

Assisted Dying Bill debate
Assisted Dying Bill debate
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So, the news last week saw the Second Reading of The Assisted Dying Bill being debated. Arguments for and against were heard throughout the day, with impassioned speeches on both sides. It’s a very difficult, emotive subject and something I don’t have any experience with and so you could argue, no right to an opinion. But as I listened to the debate, I started to form some thoughts about it.

The danger with a law on euthanasia is that it can be amended to suit the majority

I hear alarm bells when a bill is introduced, with the stipulation that 2 doctors will be required to sign the patient’s declaration…it reminds me too much of the original Abortion Act. This stated that a woman could only have an abortion with the signatures of 2 doctors and only in exceptional circumstances i.e the mother’s life was at risk.

The problem with passing laws like these are that they can be amended and in the wrong hands, abused. I know of a woman who had an abortion because her son was getting married and she didn’t want to look pregnant in the photos…another woman had one because her partner wouldn’t make a good father…and we all know about gender selective abortion and abortions performed because the baby has a cleft palate…so much for “exceptional circumstances”.

The danger with a law on euthanasia is that it can be amended to suit the majority. It’s true that statistics show a high percentage of people are in favour of assisted dying and on the face of it, who wouldn’t be…if you’re going to die anyway, why not choose to do it in a way that suits you, so you don’t have to go through excruciating pain or become a burden to others. But that’s the problem with only taking the situation at face value.

The case of Jeffery Spector, the 54 year old man who had an inoperable tumour on his spine, is tragic…he made the decision to go to Dignitas as the tumour would lead to paralysis and he didn’t want to be a burden on his family. His wife and 3 daughters didn’t agree with him, but respected his decision.

Daniel James was a rugby player who suffered a catastrophic injury that rendered him paralysed from the neck down. He felt that his body had become a prison and was determined to kill himself, but couldn’t do it alone. His parents took him to Dignitas to die as he was “not prepared to live what he felt was a second – class existence”.

I’ve read about many people suffering from a terminal illness who have bought the one way ticket to Dignitas and I can understand those that call for euthanasia to be available here…but isn’t euthanasia merely revealing the real issue that we don’t get palliative care right for those with terminal illnesses? That disability is often seen as something so dreadful, we would rather die than carry on living? That is what adds to the tragedy of these cases. Surely the value of life is deeper than what’s on the surface…the right to appropriate end of life care comes before the right to end a life.


A crisis of conscience