Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Assisted Suicide On TV

I didn't watch the documentary Terry Pratchett: Choosing To Die last night, I watched it this morning instead. Or rather I watched most of it this morning. When it came to it I couldn't watch the final part, where the man with Motor Neurone Disease took his poison in the Dignitas clinic in Zurich.

I'm not particularly squeamish, I have been with somebody when they died, and have visited deceased loved ones in chapels of rest, but this seemed too deep to be watching on TV. It felt as though I were just watching another episode of a soap opera. I slightly surprised myself, but it seemed so undignified to sit watching Mr Smedley die, especially after I had been so impressed by his dignity throughout the rest of the programme. I didn't expect to feel that way when I sat down to watch.

Something I did find disturbing in the build up to the programme were the constant references to people with MND and the way they die. The overwhelming majority die peaceful deaths and do not die by choking to death or suffocating. I worked with people with MND for eight years and many find it extremely disturbing when they see programmes such as last night's. I heard many people in the aftermath of programmes such as that state that their lives were going to be cut short because of MND, and they did not want to shorten it still further. Others felt depressed that these programmes make their lives out to be worthless and that they have no value because of their disability. Sadly that side of the debate was not aired last night.

Having a loved one commit suicide can devastate individuals and families left behind. People often feel that they could have done more to help their loved one. There can be a sense that the person who committed suicide had been selfish and inflicted more pain on those left behind than if they had died naturally. Families can be split apart with a sense of guilt, shock or any of the other countless feelings and emotions inevitable when something as huge as that affects them. None of this was considered in last night's programme. Those feelings would be there, I believe, whether the person dies in a clinic in Zurich, or a bedroom in London. Legalising suicide, or legalising assisited suicide, would not take away the pain for those left behind.

My other problem with the programme was that the presenter was Terry Pratchett. If the BBC wanted to be impartial in looking at the issue of assisted suicide, I do not think using a man with Alzheimer's is particularly impartial or objective, especially as it was clear from the start what Terry Pratchett's position was. I'm not criticising the man himself for that, rather the programme makers and the BBC. Although I did find his comment about having to travel to Switzerland to die inconvenient and costly fatuous in the extreme.

Like legalising abortion I feel that legalising assisted suicide would be the thin end of the wedge. It would begin being an option in extreme cases, but who knows where it would end?  The frightening statistic that was quoted last night was that 21% of those dying in the Zurich clinic do not have terminal or incurable diseases at all, they were described as 'weary of life'. Rather takes away the 'oh it won't be used in cases like that' argument already.

My position on this issue is the same as those who marched against the war in Iraq, not in my name, and legalising assisted suicide would be exactly that. The only thing we know with absolute certainty is that one day we will die, and when  my time comes I want it to happen naturally. There seems something terribly soulless about a society that does not put child murderers to death, but sanctions the killing of the sick, the terminally ill and the unborn.

I don't think last night's programme contributed anything to the debate about assisted suicide, it certainly didn't raise any issues that haven't been debated over and over again. What the BBC is very good at is producing sensationalist programmes and patronisingly claiming that is in the public interest. In that respect last night's programme was very BBC.


Left-footer said...

Beware of being too young, too old, or too sick, and of the totalitarian 'compassion' which seeks to decide what is best for us.

Beware of the power of attorney, granted to a legacy-hunting relative which may turn out to be a licence to kill.

And, perhaps, beware too of the 'mickey finn' slipped into your bedtime malted milk.

Sorry if I sound like Cassandra, but I'm angry. Better get back to my own blog and be angry there.

Great post: thank you and God bless!

Gregg said...

One of the things we despise the Nazis for was their penchant for cleansing their populace of those who weren't 'perfect'.

How many nice, touchy feely, pinko-liberal, 'anti-Nazis' today support the slaughtering of the unborn, the sick and the terminally ill I wonder?

Left-footer said...

"How many nice, touchy feely, pinko-liberal, 'anti-Nazis' today support the slaughtering of the unborn, the sick and the terminally ill I wonder?"

Probably over 90%, if their gurus tell them its goodthinkful.

Lora said...

Personally, I have suffered with debilitating mental illness, that leaves me terrified of life and unable to leave the house, however I am also fully consious and without sounding arrogant have a reasonable modicum of intelligence.

For 22 years I have watched family disintegrate as they are required to babysit me constantly, and even my brother developed anxiety disorders of his own from the stress, for my parents there cannot be family holidays, or quiet nights out, nor can they relax in the house or even sleep some nights

My particular problems have me trapped terrified of things everyone else copes with, therapists and medication take the edge off, but there comes a time when suicide is a valid and practical option.

I agree that it needs to be well controlled and the potential for abuse is high ( material gain, depressed teens, etc) but there are no hard and fast rules, things must be governed on a case by case basis perhaps a committee or court type arrangement, involving doctors, psychological examinations and what not.

I respect your opinions but please do not judge others if you have not been in a situation like mine.

My phobias of the mundane outweighs any fear of death I could possibly have, as for switzerland being inconvenient, not only does agoraphobia( a mere side effect of other issues) make traveling impossible but people who make informed conscious decisions on the matter shouldn't have to die somewhere strange of unfamiliar, spending amounts of money that many simply don't have


Lora said...

P.s I don't think anyone is saying this should be used as euthanasia ( the killing of the helpless by others) but as assisted suicide a distinction marked by the choice of the individual it concerns

The status of being of clear and of sound mind to make such a decision is another issue yet to be addressed, which was highlighted in the program by the feeling of those going to the dignitas clinic, who felt they had to make the decision and carry out the act perhaps a little prematurely while they were still in a position where their decision would be legally acknowledged.

Of course advance directives in the uk, a type of living will that can act similarly to a dnr order, can be made in advance of the situation whence it would come into effect, could be utilized as a basis for a new system involving physician assisted suicide, however the advance directive procedure  as is Would need tweaking (similar to a dnr order it is necessary , to confirm the decision with the patient at the time of it's carrying out and can be revoked by the person it concerns at any time) , which whilst appearing  perfect for assisted suicide at first, does have some legal caveats, small print as it were and procedures that may not reflect the true will of the patient in advanced stages of certain diseases.

I think that under the right conditions assisted suicide can be the correct decision if deemed necessary by the patient themselves, it may not be for the majority of people but for those who find themselves in certain situations it is a choice they are grateful of.

IN CLOSING: we live in a society where it is deemed culturally acceptable for pets to be slaughtered for medical reasons without their consent.
Yet consenting adults making informed and learned choices to end their own suffering are subject to stigma and prosecution,
 driven to unreliable and often excruciating methods of traditional suicide, which many seeking physician assisted suicide are physically unable to attempt
 or traveling cross country to die alone in an unfamiliar place, keeping loved ones at a distance for fear of their prosecution


L(ora coldbeck)

Gregg said...

I can't agree Lora. Doctors are here to save life not to take it.

I believe that suicide is wrong but it is ultimately a decision for the individual and should stay that way. I would not want to live in a society that accepted the legalised killing of the mentally or physically ill.

We even use euphemisms such as a 'termination' or 'euthanasia' because using plain language is a little brutal, even for abortionists and those who support legalising suicide and assisiting somebody to commit suicide. Or should that really be commiting manslaughter?

I have every sympathy with people who are terminally ill or mentally ill, but it must be for those individuals to decide, not we as a people or society to condone or encourage it.

My grandfather committed suicide over 40 years ago and my family has never recovered from the devastation left behind, it ripped our family apart. But I now understand why he did what he did and admire the fact that he took the reponsibility himself rather than wanting to pass the responsibility for his own death on to others.