Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Watch out!

Watch out! It appears that Dignity in Dying (formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society) is rolling out its overdue autumn offensive, with a little help from its friends. It must seem a shame that there's been so much important news hogging the headlines, such as the euro-crisis, the Leveson Inquiry, the Chancellor's autumn statement, the public sector strike, Egyptian and DRC elections, Pakistan border incidents.... But the Falconer "Commission" promised to report late November. Maybe, like the government's prediction for balancing the books, it had to be moved on a bit in the light of events.

BBC filming at Cornerstone
Well, yesterday afternoon I received a message from a friend saying was I going to be on the BBC later on. She thought she'd heard me on Radio Oxford. "Not that I know of," I replied. However in due course an item about a chap with locked-in syndrome accompanied by a picture of Tony Nicklinson, whom I'd met in the summer, was trailed for Inside Out South. And lo and behold, at 7.45 or so on came the piece which had been produced for Bristol. Listening to it again, there's one misleading piece of commentary near the end which says something like, "Now both Tony and Michael are awaiting the report of the 'commission' to see its recommendations...". No, I'm not. I'm aware that it's a done deal, and that the 'commission' was fatally compromised from its inception. I would be interested in what a Royal Commission had to say.

The significance of the item dawned on me today when my son pointed out to me the first item on the BBC website's News England page, headlined, "'Right to die' man seeks ruling" which linked to the "debate" I had with Tony. The article is about Tony Nicklinson applying to the High Court to grant permission for a doctor to end his life. As I've said before, he's a brave chap. I couldn't help but be moved and sympathetic when we met. I can understand why he felt his frustration unbearable, but I agree with someone who watched it (herself suffering from a painful degenerative disease); she said, "Sad he felt there was nothing to live for, not even his misguided but loving wife. Sad that people think their lives are their own to choose." 

I imagine the case will get a lot of media coverage. I can't imagine that his advisers have held out great hope of success, since the taking of life is still illegal in this country. But of course there'll be a lot of discussion of inequality/discrimination and choice. And justifiable public sympathy and less justifiable indignation.

Next will come the "Commission" with a great hullabaloo and media circus - with an appearance of being official, and carefully researched, and balanced, and no mention of the the fact that nine of the 12-strong panel had previously declared in favour of assisted dying and none had declared against it. I imagine it will be presented to MPs as the definitive exploration of the issue and conclude that with tight safeguards doctors be allowed deliberately to take the life of someone so inclined.

In Canada, as I said yesterday, there's been a similar exercise. One response came from my friend Alison Davis, who has multiple disabilities and what many would call an unbearable "quality of life", who described her experience of asking for death to the Calgary Herald.

Alison Davis
Re: "No right to be killed; Doctor assisted suicide should not be allowed," Editorial, Nov. 20. 
I was glad to see your excellent editorial stating the case against euthanasia. If it had been available to me some years ago, I wouldn't now be writing to you. I have several severe disabling conditions. I use a wheelchair full time and a vent at night. I have severe pain, which even morphine can't control. 
I wanted to die for more than 10 years, at a time when doctors thought my life expectancy was very short. I attempted suicide seriously several times, and was saved, only because friends found me in time and took me to the emergency room, where I was treated. 
At first, I was angry with them for thwarting my wishes. Now, I'm eternally grateful. I want to live now, even though my pain is worse than it was when I wanted to die. What changed my mind is friends who refused to accept my view that my life had no value, and a group of very poor children, who loved me wonderfully and overwhelmingly. I found a reason to live in reaching out to help others, rather than turning the negativity on myself. If assisted suicide had been available then, no one would ever have known the doctors' prognosis was wrong, or that I'd be missing the best years of my life.
Alison Davis, Blandford Forum, U.K.

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