Debbie Purdy goes to the House of Lords today to seek assurance that her husband won’t be prosecuted for assisting suicide should he accompany her to the Dignitas clinic. It’s hard not to sympathise with her request – but, speaking on the Today programme this morning, former DPP Sir Ken MacDonald said that he hoped her bid failed. And, at least from a legal point of view, I think he might be right. In essence, his point is that there’s something wrong with going to court to get permission in advance to break the law.
He added, though – also correctly – that there’s a very good reason to review the law. MacDonald came over as thoughtful and insightful – and a whole lot more impressive than George Pitcher, who had spoken on the same topic a little over an hour earlier. Quite why he should have been given airtime is beyond me – his qualifications seem simply to be that (a) he’s religious affairs editor of the Telegraph and (b) the BBC seems to think that you can’t have ethics without a large slice of religion (just have a look at this page to see what I mean). Still – there he was. And, lordy, did he talk some bollocks – which is appropriate enough. Worse, it was tired, hackneyed, and false bollocks.
There were several claims: that allowing PAS or euthanasia is socially harmful and undermines the “social fabric” – whatever that is; that it diminishes the importance of death as a part of human life; that it undermines palliative care; that this point can be proved by looking at Holland and its non-existent palliative care system; and that allowing PAS or euthanasia for the ill will inevitably lead to its being available to the healthy.
Let’s deal with the last point first. It’s false – there’s no reason to suppose that the two things’d be linked at all; and that leaves open, of course, the question of just why it’d be so wrong for a healthy person who wanted to die for some reason to be able to seek assistance. I simply don’t see why not [insert blatant pimping of own work here].
Does PAS/ euthanasia undermine palliative care? Again: I don’t see why it should. Some people will prefer not to be killed just yet; others will want to cash in their chips. Oh – and the claim about Dutch hospices is simply false. Even a quick and shoddy internet search seems to indicate that, far from there being no such thing, there’s an increasing number, and that they enjoy government support – which could be construed by someone less charitable than I as an indication that Pitcher doesn’t much care about evidence.
Does PAS or euthanasia devalue life or death? Not a bit of it. Pitcher himself indicates that death has to be seen as a part of life – and, this being the case, a good death would seem to be a component of a good life. If someone finds the prospect of pain or helplessness inimical to a good life, then I don’t think they’ve made a mistake. Of course, if a person wants to relinquish an easy exit for whatever reason, then that’s up to them. Still – if such an attitude is admirable, it’s still not one that merits being forced on those who don’t share it. That would be monstrous. It would undermine the dignity in dying that – notionally – we’d be seeking to preserve. (Because death is sooooooo dignified, isn’t it?)
Finally, is the social fabric threatened? Well, I suppose that the recent Dutch civil war, famine in Brussels, the absence of any kind of education in Oregon, and so on all lend supp…
WAIT A MINUTE! Holland, Belgium and Oregon all seem still to be perfectly decent places to live.
Pitcher nil, Thought 5. Away win.