We were busy this morning battening down the chicken-hatches in anticipation of fierce wind and torrential rain. Not that unusual for June in this country, but the sort of spell that makes predictions that holidays abroad are losing their appeal look wide of the mark. I’ve noticed over the years that our topic of conversation tends to reflect the mood of the weather, it certainly did today because several of my pals were mulling over the Terry Pratchett documentray ‘Choosing to Die’.
In the programme the 63-year old writer, who has Alzheimer’s Disease, went to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to see Peter Smedley, who has motor neurone disease, take a lethal dose of barbiturates. Asked why he wanted to make the film, Pratchett said that he was appalled at the present situation. Assisted dying is practised in the United States and at least three countries in Europe but our governments have always turned their backs on the possibility of adopting the same practice here. Pratchett is a patron of ‘Dignity in Dying’, which campaigns for a change in the law to allow assisted dying. Its chief executive says that it is about choice and protection..”People suffer at the end of life, and therefore people take difficult decisions about their own deaths. We need to face up to reality”.
Most of us that work daily on the allotments are of advanced years, and perhaps that is why the programme aroused so much emotion. Opinions were divided. Several shared my view that my life belongs to me and I have the right to end it if existence has become unbearable. I can easily identify with Terry Pratchett’s view of a disease such as Alzheimer’s.
But I ended up sitting rather uncomfortably on the fence because the case argued by Albert, Tom and others is that were assisted dying to be legalised a lot of elderly and infirm people might well be persuaded that they owed it to their carers to agree to end it all. Relatives wouldn’t do that would they? Oh yes they would, or at least some would. I have regularly encountered problems with relatives blocking the discharge of an elderly patient from an acute hospital ward to a nursing home. I was shocked at first but came to accept that the number one priority for such people was money not the quality of life of their parent.
Yet – here I go again swinging to and fro on the issue – I can see no earthly reason why someone who is rational, and capable of making their own decision, should be obliged to exist on when they wish otherwise. Perhaps the compromise should be a certification by a senior doctor that an applicant for assisted dying is terminally ill, is of sound mind,, has self understanding and is capable of making his or her own decision irrespective of the views of others. Under such a scheme no other applicants would be considered. The doctor would not be asked whether the decision was the right one, that judgement can surely only rest with the individual.
Michael Nazir-Ali, the popular retired Bishop of Rochester had no doubts. This was, he said, “science fiction”. The organisation ‘Care Not Killing’ said it was “a recipe for elder abuse and also a threat to vulnerable people”. Itts director, Dr Peter Saunders, accused the BBC of constantly portraying suicide in a positive light. The BBC itself received 898 complaints.
It is indeed a complex and emotional issue. Clearly there would have to be safeguards but I cannot shake off the conviction that someone like Terry Pratchett has the absolute right to end his life at the point where it is becoming, for him, unbearable. It is, after all, his life and his alone.
I have given this a lot of thought and can only conclude that there is no simple answer. Certain it is that I can’t imagine forgoing even one more day to see all that is beautiful in life. What do you think?
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S EGGHEADS QUIZ; 1.Queen Elizabeth 11 2. Wales 3. The species 4. England 5. Jailhouse Rock 6. Hair 7. Cleo Laine 8. The Teletubbies 9. Shaken but not stirred 10. Hadlee
OVER 8 OUT OF TEN…..TAKE A BOW AND LET ME HAVE YOUR NAME!!!!!!!!!!!