Sunday, 5 April 2009

The Report

I was interested to listen to Simon Cox's report on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday night about the 'Dignitas' 'Clinic' in Zurich. Actually I listened to the podcast this morning. I thought it was a very fair piece of journalism, not so much about the rights and wrongs of assisted suicide as about the practicalities of accessing it from England and carrying it out in Switzerland. The impression I was left with was that it's not as squeaky clean and 'clinical' as we are often led to believe. Ludwig Minelli, who runs it, is not a doctor but a human rights' lawyer who believes passionately that suicide is a universal human right, and admits the logic of his position is that anyone who is of a sound mind and wants to kill themselves should be helped to do it efficiently. For one thing, he said, it would save the NHS a lot of money from botched suicides. The flaw in his argument is that no one lives to themselves. As John Donne wrote: 'No man is an island, entire unto himself...'. The idea that what seems a most personal action, ending one's life, does not affect ourselves alone is clearly nonsense. That was vividly illustrated near the start of the programme with an interview with the sisters of a woman who'd had gone to Zurich with her husband whom she'd met in a psychiatric hospital. They were still in grief and anger over their sister's assisted suicide. Another flaw is the measure of sanity. Mr Minelli would seem predisposed to think that an inclination to kill oneself is normal.... How did he describe suicide? Oh yes, a 'marvellous possibility'. It seems to be a prime instance of calling evil good, and good evil, which I recall the Hebrew prophet identified of a mark of a disintegrating society, along with those who consider themselves wise in their own eyes (Isaiah 5.20,21).

Life is good, not ending it. Even limited life. On the same day, coincidentally, Radio 5 Live ran two interviews on the subject, one in the morning with former Under 21 England prop forward, Matt Hampson, who is paralysed from the neck down after a training accident. Most impressive. Full of life. It's worth looking at his website. 'Did you ever consider ending it all?' he was asked. 'Never,' was his answer. And from what I recall, he said, 'There's more to my life than before.' Which I could understand. It's utterly counterintuitive. To all intents and purposes, life would appear to be limited and frustrating, and yet life really happens within you - for example loving and being loved. And both those are choices: do you give it? will you accept it? The other much longer one, in the evening, was between Keith Wood and Daniel James' mother. It was a sad story about a similar young rugger player who suffered a similar injury and took a different remedy to his situation. He asked his parents to take him to Zurich where Mr Minelli's staff helped him end his life. The conversation clearly and audibly moved Keith Wood. And so it should have. He was careful not to make comparisons or judgements. Which is as it should be, except... it's not a healthy state of affairs if we fail to make value judgements. I have never criticised suicides. I have buried a number. Who can know what's in their hearts? But I wish they had chosen life instead. That's the better way.

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