Had to go to the dentist again this morning. Horrible toothache flared up yesterday. I didn't know if I'd get there, because my legs were in revolt against the Siberian winds, but Jane coaxed me down the snowy slope. And just as we were leaving the phone rang from Radio 5 Live. I'd been listening to Victoria Derbyshire's programme about Tony Nicklinson's campaign for a change in the law to assisted suicide. It was broadcast from his home and was in effect part of the launch of the Falconer Commission on Assisted Dying.
It was an emotive programme. Tony Nicklinson had a stroke 5 years ago and is in a "locked-in syndrome". He communicates by adapted computer and a clever letters board. Victoria asked why he wanted to die. "Life is just about tolerable now and I don't want to die immediately. However, I have every reason to believe that my future will be worse than it is now, as my joints seize up, my muscles atrophy and my legs swell up through lack of use. I don't want to face old age like this. And if I have an itch I can't scratch it and if my nose is blocked I can't pick it or blow it. I have to be fed like a baby, except, unlike a baby, I won't grow out of it. And worst of all I'll never know what it's like to hold my grandchildren.... In short my quality of life is rubbish. I may have life, but it's the quality of life that's important." She then asked him if there was anything that made his life worth living. His answer was "No" and mentioned some things he used to enjoy doing, and said, "No doubt those of the glass half-full persuasion will say, 'Forget those things you can't do and focus on the things you can do.' To those people I say this, 'While I don't doubt your sincerity, it's easy to say that when you can live a normal life of walking and talking, but it's a lot harder when you can do neither. It's not worth seeing people, because you just sit there like a lemon.... Of course I want to be with family and friends, but not like this."
Thinking about this as I slowly type, I feel how sad he is. Sad - and angry. He's clearly channeling his anger into the campaign. It reminded me of Debbie Purdy's emotion. "There's a fundamental injustice which needs correcting. When the right to determine where, when and how a person dies is taken away, just because that person needs help is a serious matter and the reasons why it is necessary should be closely examined." But how sad that he couldn't believe that his family and friends might like and want his mere company! There's something called "companionable silence", which is far from lemonish.
And so I fired an email to the programme which said, "I have the same prospects as Tony Nicklinson, having Motor Neurone Disease. I definitely do not want the law changed because of the unintended dangers which would follow. I may well be a glass-half-full person, but that does not mean that my life is all easy or that I don't have dark times." Oddly, it wasn't read out! However there were some good contributions, including one from Frank, father of Michelle Wheatley, a young mum of 27 with locked-in syndrome in Stockport. I might have said a lot more, for example about this right to decide the time, manner and place of our death! Where's that suddenly come from? Suicide may not be a crime in law, but that doesn't make it a right. Smoking isn't a crime, but that doesn't make it a right. Suicide is essentially a selfish if desperate act, as it never simply affects oneself. And when you are asking others to assist suicide, you are in effect making them complicit in a killing.
Among the contributors was Rachel Hurst who is wheelchair bound with a degenerative disease and opposed to changing the law on the ground of danger to the vulnerable disabled. There was also the wily Lord Charles Falconer, chairman of the Commission on Assisted Dying (a deceptively official title); actually it's far from official, being funded by people like Terry Pratchett, a patron of the former Voluntary Euthanasia Society (Dignity in Dying), and packed with known pro-assisted-suicide panel-members. They like to call it an "independent" commission. You'll often find it referred to that way, on the principle that if you repeat it often enough people will believe it's true. It was launched yesterday. You can read about in Peter Saunders' blog: http://pjsaunders.blogspot.com/2010/11/vast-majority-of-members-of-lord.html.