An article in the Guardian this morning, http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/apr/03/assisted-dying-nan-maitland-dignitas-arthritis discusses the rather thorny issue of assisted suicide. The particular subject is that of Nan Maitland who, suffering from what she herself described as crippling arthritis, chose, at the age of 84, to end her life at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.
As ever, this has proved to be the seat of some controversy, with some suggesting that where the patient does not suffer from a terminal disease, their perhaps ought not be the option of ending one’s own life. The article writes that
‘Care Not Killing, an alliance that campaigns against assisted dying, said the case demonstrated “a shifting of the goalposts” by pro-rights campaigners and would place pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives if they felt they were a burden. “It’s a very scary situation that not very severely disabled people could, at the drop of a hat, opt to kill themselves, and [Maitland’s case] shows a ramping-up by campaigners,” said a spokesman. “Many people have to live with arthritis. It does expose the lie that only people who are terminally ill will be affected by changes in the law.”‘
Care not Killing puts me in mind of those delightful American groups which deny the right of a woman to chose to have an abortion, even in the case of rape or incest. Those groups who see no conflict in calling themselves ‘pro-life’ and murdering doctors who perform such operations. The fact is that anyone can opt to kill themselves ‘at the drop of a hat’ (wilfully misleading and motive language if ever I read any – and utterly irresponsible, too) it is only those severely disabled who need assistance. It seems, however, the height of arrogance to insist that those who can, do it themselves (which is the implication of CNK’s position), not least as a botched attempt can lead to an agonising death which serves no-one.
It seems to me that Nan Maitland got it right in this instance when she wrote the following:
“For some time, my life has consisted of more pain than pleasure. I have a great feeling of relief that I will have no further need to struggle through each day.
She added: “I have had a wonderful life, and the great good fortune to die at a time of my choosing.”
Our lives are our own, and our own to chose to end should we so desire. It’s true that a mistaken suicide is not a mistake one learns from, but equally it is not a mistake one lives to regret. Naturally, if one is religious or has belief in a higher being then the argument changes. I do not believe that pressure groups have any right to tell me or anyone how they should live their life – or how and when and why they should end it.
The understanding missing from the arguments of CNK and their ilk is firstly that we will all die – in this respect, arguing that someone is not suffering from an officially terminal disease is somewhat mealy mouthed – and secondly that the only person fit to make a decision regarding the worth of an individual life is the individual themselves. Since my diagnosis, I have considered it a possibility that, at some point, I will choose to end my life before, in the rather intelligent and considered words of Nan Maitland, it consists of considerably more pain than pleasure. And yes, I am aware that Parkinson’s is not an especially painful disease. There is more than one type of pain, however.
As I have written before, my particular symptoms are mild enough to go unnoticed by most, though the observant may clock my cack-handedness with forks, for example, and perhaps spot the tremor which has begun to appear at certain times – times of stress and extreme physical tiredness. The lack of pronounced tremor means that the changes I feel within myself are only apparent when expressed. The difficulty swallowing, the increased muscular stiffness which, in turn, has led to an increased propensity to injury … which leads to an inability to train properly, which leads to an increased propensity to injury …
None of these really matter that much, but the fact of the matter is that at some point, I will become unable to do those things which I identify as forming me. I am slowly being robbed of my identity. My brain has increasing difficulty relating to my body. More and more it sees it not as an intrinsic part of ‘me’, but as a rather recalcitrant and flawed host. A hindrance, not a help.
At some point, I may find that my body and my brain are at such loggerheads that they need to be separated. CNK will presumably want me stuck in a home, force-fed, arse wiped, useless body sat staring into the distance, drooling.
This tells me one thing, and one thing only. Groups such as Care not Killing do not understand what life truly is, what makes it such a wonderful, beautiful thing. In failing to accept that it must end, and that we can have control over this end, they turn life into mere mechanics. They truly are fools.
This is a subject only rarely examined in fiction. Sanctuary looks at it from the viewpoint of the chronically ill.