Monday, 22 June 2009

More serious reflections

'Death is always tragic,' I said yesterday, and of course it's not true. It isn't always tragic. It's true that the death of the two hostages in Baghdad IS tragic. I had an email yesterday from someone who knew them in Iraq. Yesterday was 'awful', he said. There was so much shared grief over these two young men pointlessly and ruthlessly cut down (one presumes) before their time.

However, in my defence, death is 'the last enemy', and life itself is good. And the taking of life is not. So although it's inevitable, death isn't a positive. It may come as a relief, but that doesn't make it 'good'. It's never appropriate to say, 'Well, it's a GOOD thing THEY died.' It's interesting by the way that the Voluntary Euthanasia Society rebranded itself as Dignity in Dying, and avoids the term 'assisted suicide' preferring 'assisted dying'. On the other side we have Care not Killing, which is trying to make the opposite point. I suppose the implication is that suicide involves intention, and that there is a vital distinction which needs to be preserved. I certainly think that to imply there's no difference between medication intended to relieve pain, albeit shortening life, and medication administered with the intention of ending life is naïve and false.

One thing that Debbie Purdy and I agreed about on Friday was that these are issues which deserve full discussion, in my view fuller than a fag-end of an amendment attached to a bill in the Lords. She felt, I think, that an amendment to provide protection for someone accompanying a loved one to commit suicide abroad was worth having. I feel that this would introduce into British law a principle that isn't there at present. In fact the proposed amendment seems to say that assisting someone to commit suicide abroad should not be treated as 'an act capable of assisting or encouraging suicide'. As Humpty Dumpty said, 'It means what I choose it to mean.'


  1. I read today of someone, terminally ill, who had taken his own life "while he was still able to do so". I thought it sad that he could not "enjoy" a few extra weeks, months, years - without having to worry about what would happen to him "at the end". I do not myself believe I have a right to take my own life but for those who do, I do not think that assisting them should be a criminal offence. Brian.

  2. Hello Brian
    I said to Debbie Purdy that I have never condemned people who have committed suicide, of whom I've known a number and whose funerals I've taken. But the present law is framed to protect the vulnerable against those who might encourage or help them to take their own lives for other than altruistic reasons. That is the prime function of the state - to protect the vulnerable. To make the taking of life, even one's own, a matter of course can't be the state's job. That's why this law going through the Lords at the moment criminalises websites and chatrooms encouraging suicide, which prey on youngsters and probably contributed to all the Bridgend suicides. The thing about the Suicide Act is that there is a public interest safeguard, which the DPP has always exercised in the Zurich cases.
    I'm really sad to hear of this man, and those like him. Obviously I'm in the same boat. I'm concerned about what will happen to me at the end. MND doesn't have the nicest prognosis, as you'll be aware. However I believe that I'll receive the quality of palliative care which will ease my dying as far as is possible. Meanwhile I am able to 'enjoy' life now in ways I wouldn't have imagined possible, even though already I utterly depend on Jane from morning till night.
    However I hope, if you saw the Politics Show, you got the idea that I think it's a matter which needs real discussion, and thanks for your comment.

  3. Please pardon the out of the blue question, but was your father the Revd John Wenham? I have been reading his autobiography and just this evening, on learning of your story, flipped ahead to the postscript. To hear there of how faith is about life, and to see the same conviction shown so strikingly here, is moving indeed. Whether it is a coincidence of names of not, God be praised for your testimony to his precious gift of life, and to his grace and goodness amidst real suffering.

  4. No coincidence! I'm his youngest son - and in fact it was me who wrote the postscript to his book! His is a remarkable story, I think, in a quiet way. He had quite a wide influence.