This is a debate I have quite deliberately kept out of for some time. The principal reason for this is that while I had and still have very solid views on the dangers regarding the societal efficacy of a change in the law, I wanted to listen to all sides of the argument and consider carefully—with as little emotion as possible—the position I found myself moving ever more strongly towards.
I feel I can now, however, confidently state that I am, with certain caveats, opposed to the Assisted Dying Bill.
Before I continue, let me just provide those who don’t already know me that well with a little background. I have a condition called Type II Spinal Muscular Atrophy. I am severely disabled. I use voice recognition software to dictate my writing and need assistance with just about all physical tasks. I am not, however, in pain. My quality of life—while some, viewing it erroneously from the outside, might foolishly think otherwise—is extremely good. I contribute. I take from life but I also give. I love, I hate. I am loved, I am hated. A balanced life, I’d say.
Generally speaking this is not something I need to explain. Those around me—family, friends, fellow writers, neighbours, casual acquaintances—usually get this. I am, I’m sure they would agree, a man living his life …
… and also, a man who does not want to be faced with the prospect of being thought of by some as a man waiting to die.
Now, this might sound like a fairly selfish and somewhat flippant view. I have already stated quite clearly that I am not in pain. So who am I to subject someone, however indirectly, to continuing pain simply because I’m concerned about societal perceptions of disability? Let me state as clearly as possible at this point that I do not believe that I have that right. My concerns, however, are very real—and I feel we need to ask in reply, Who are those who wish to die to subject others to a different kind of pain? The kind of pain that comes from misperception, social inequality, being seen as “second-class citizens”.
Because this is a very real possibility.
I vividly recall as a child, back in the 1970s, hearing kids half-joke about putting a girl I knew with cerebral palsy “out of her misery”. Kids being kids, right? Well, actually, no. Among some adults at the time there was still a sense that the humane thing to do would be to “let them die”. I have no doubt whatsoever that there are still people in the UK today with similar views—but the fact does remain that things have improved, that the general understanding that there are real, complete people behind the disability is now far more prevalent. The danger with such a change in the law is not only that it might be abused (let’s be very clear about this: no matter how many safeguards you put in place, something will go wrong—deliberately or otherwise: if people die through negligence when we are trying to save them, as so often happens, what might occur with these new practices?), but that it will rekindle prejudices that, while still there in some cases, are, after much hard work, on the decline.
Of course, this is all very easy for me to say. I am not “suffering”. If I were, would I not have the same rights as anyone else to end my life, as some argue? Well, yes, perhaps I would—but if the granting of that right impacts upon the life I now live (and, perhaps more to the point, the lives of others), as it indeed might, I like to think I would stand by this assertion even in pain.
There is an argument I so often hear. It goes something along the lines of “you wouldn’t let a dog suffer like that”. A real argument winner, that one. Except for a single point so often overlooked in this actually quite offensive statement: we are not dogs. In the case of our canine friends, the decision is made for them. We cannot know what they want. We assume that we are doing the kindest thing for them. While no one is suggesting that anyone other than the individual concerned should make the decision concerning their own life and death, it is nonetheless true that other assumptions (and, if misapplied, even that final assumption) will indeed be made.
My suggestion: focus on improved palliative care—and where it is a matter of “poor quality of life”, place the emphasis on improving quality of life … or (and this might be frighteningly cynical of me) would that be too expensive?
I’ll leave you with that thought.
© 2014 Gary William Murning