At 08:15 this morning I watched a man die. I’ve always thought that in a situation when someone is dying I’d do something to help, something to stop it happening but I sat and did nothing. In reality I could have done nothing, even if I had wanted to. The man I saw dying died last year and I watched a recording of it on the BBC iPlayer. This was during a program developed by the author Sir Terry Pratchett as part of his crusade to have the laws on assisted dying changed in the UK. Seamlessly as I’ve watched the program I’ve picked up the terminology, let us call it what it is: assisted suicide. On the face of it Sir Pratchett is campaigning for individual choice, something which I think is very important. However when you enable people to make that choice then inevitably people will make it, sometimes for the wrong reasons. Does this make you complicit in their death in the way an arms manufacturer (sorry “defence contractor”) might be considered in the efficient despatch of the people fired upon by their weapons? What of the family members, who help them, are they murderers for allowing the decision to be made?
Who are we to so easily throw away this life we have when in other places innocents are struggling to keep hold of theirs. Ok the situation is different; they are fit and healthy, fighting for their rights. You are terminally ill with only a narrowing corridor of life to look forward to. I’m paraphrasing there another man who died during the making of the program, a 41 year old man who was suffering from MS.
It’s easy for me to say all this, I haven’t got Alzheimer’s, and I’m not suffering from MS. My life has been remarkably trouble free to date. What I can say is that I NEVER want to see a situation in the UK where someone who is merely weary of life but could choose to end it all very easily. As 21% of Dignitas clientele are, that would be an unforgiveable waste.
I can also say that I hope and pray that if faced with such uncertainty, such adversity that I might be strong and keep my faith and keep my life to the end. That I might resist the dark corridor towards the ultimate act of selfishness: suicide.
I have an immense amount of respect for my Uncle David, he suffered from Motor Neurone disease and I know that for so practical a man it was very difficult for him to slowly lose his physical abilities, in a strange way worse because his wit and intelligence were not dulled in any way leaving him painfully aware of his growing limitations. But with the support of his loving wife and family he soldiered on and eventually his breath gave out as he slept in the family home he had lived in for years, in his bed, next to his wife.
I will always remember him. I will remember him at the tiller of the Spinola, ever its captain. I will remember his love for classic car racing and also for model planes which led to a very exciting garage full of aeroplane parts and miniature diesel engines. Thanks to his life not being even further foreshortened I’m also able to remember the fun had even through all the adversity; particularly when to participate in a family occasion he joined the festivities by drinking a glass of sherry through a specially converted medical pump which an inventive friend had fitted with a foot pedal so he could operate it himself even though he had long lost the ability to properly raise a glass. I’m very glad to remember these things even though I wouldn’t know it was missing from my life had his end been different.
Separately from this, and you may find this more relevant Sir Pratchett, my grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s and while it was difficult to see her go through that, her lucid moments were some of the few adult memories I have of her, memories I shall treasure always.
So spare a thought not for the suffering you will save them from when watching your slower demise, but for the magic moments that you will prevent from happening if you choose to quicken your end.