Sunday, 12 December 2010

Trip to London

On Monday Jane and I drove up to London. We were heading for the Kentish Town TV Studios. It was a freezing foggy morning, and on the way we hit snow on the M4. However, Jane enjoyed driving the new car. Much smoother than the Focus, she finds. And she's pretty cool driving through the city, even when I got lost navigating through Camden Town - on the way home. 

Our purpose was to record a 4Thought programme for Channel 4, about assisted suicide. In case you've never seen it, 4Thought is the 1 minute 50 second item immediately following Channel 4's Evening news. It's considered a religious programme. The filming was done in a large pure white studio with no straight lines - peculiarly disorientating. You really do get the illusion of infinity. Sadly I didn't need make up! My pate wasn't too shiny, apparently. In the event, they interviewed me for more than 30 minutes. Then Jane and I had to do various still shots and one walking on! It will be interesting to see the final edited result some time in January. Typically, during the night I woke up and thought of what I should have said! 

I'd like to have said some of this:

"I’m Michael Wenham.  I’m a Christian.  I have a slow form of Motor Neurone Disease.  It already means I cannot live independently.  More and more that will be the case, until eventually I die.

We have an old dog who’s beginning to show her age.  If she ever gets cancer and is in constant pain, I shall have her put down.  Why should there not be a law allowing that for people? 

The reason is that valuing human life is the mark of a civilised society.  Over the centuries, bit by bit, we have learned to treat it as precious – rightly.  To make it legal to take life is not progress, but retreat.  The way forward has been pioneered by the hospice movement with enormous advances in palliative care.  That is what we should be promoting, not voluntary euthanasia as a perverse sort of medical treatment.

Compassion does not mean taking someone’s life or even helping them to take their own.  That is a negation of compassion.  That says, ‘Your life is no longer valuable.  You don’t want to live – neither do I want you to live.’  Real compassion means ‘suffering with’; it says, ‘Your life will always be valuable.  Even though you don’t think so, I know so.  That’s why I’ll stick with you – to the end.’

A hospice nurse I know tells me that they talk to their young patients about managing ‘natural’ death.  They don’t want their lives terminated, but they do want reassurance about symptom-control and pain-management.  And they can be given exactly that by palliative care experts.

But isn’t it my choice, my right, to choose when and how I die?  I don’t think so.  Suicide is not a crime, but that doesn’t make it a right, any more than owning a house is a right.  Suicide is a sad desperate act, but ultimately a selfish one.  The dead person may be beyond regrets, but those left behind have to deal with all the emotions of grief, multiplied many times over.  And in the case of assisted suicide that includes doctors and nurses whose job is to care and heal, not to harm - a terrible denial of their raison d’être and undermining of their relationship with patients.

Those of us who are disabled believe our lives have equal value with everyone.  We’re already hearing the message that we’re a ‘burden’.  We fear that legalising any form of euthanasia, whether voluntary or not, would eventually result in us and others more vulnerable being subtly pressured to agree to being put down.  We don’t want to take the road back to the jungle."

The film crew and interviewer seemed pleased with what I'd said, and Jane of course said I did well. I'm just hoping the editing will be kind to me!

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