The Royal College of Physicians has been dragged into a vocal and undignified spat with its members over assisted dying, with some opposed, some supportive, and the rest uncommitted. It’s like Brexit all over again, with a consensus as far away as ever.
It is quite extraordinary that the law regulating assisted suicide and every permutation in between goes back to 1961, when the Suicide Act was passed. That Act served a very narrow purpose, which was to relax the law on suicide and attempted suicide, which, before the Act, was a criminal offence.
In days of yore, it was acknowledged, albeit reluctantly, that it was a waste of time prosecuting a corpse, but the law, aided and abetted by the ‘caring’ Catholic and Apostolic Church, made sure that those who remained were punished instead.
Those who committed suicide were denied a Christian burial – and instead carried to a crossroads in the dead of night and dumped in a pit, a wooden stake hammered through the body pinning it in place. There were no clergy or mourners, and no prayers were offered.
But punishment did not end with death. The deceased’s family were stripped of their belongings and they were handed to the Crown. The suicide of an adult male could reduce his survivors to pauperism. Suffice it to say suicides were rare indeed in the olden days, and with a generous massaging of the truth, the dear departed were presented as victims of foul play. Plod would come along, take a few details with a well licked pencil in his pocket book and it would be an open and shut case.
But I digress. It is a fact of life and death that we as a population are getting older and older. Statistics tell us that on average, we are living 15 years longer than we did twenty years ago. And with medical science keeping us going well past our sell by date, the issue of assisted suicide is becoming more and more relevant.
It is not so much our life span that is relevant, but our quality of life, and that is where assisted suicide comes into play. Whilst we can debate ad nauseam the ethics, it is increasingly the case that some are being kept alive against their wishes simply because nobody will take reponsibility for ending it.
We all know of cases of our nearest and dearest suffering from a terminal illness, where medical science is keeping them alive against their wishes, and where they are pumped full of morphine and painkillers until an undignified death finally puts them out of their misery. Far better to choose the order of our going, surrounded by our family and friends, and then quietly slipping away.
By way of safeguard, and to allay any fears about foul play, I support the idea of two medical practitioners justifying the decision to withdraw life support, a decision to be endorsed by a senior judge who will also consult the immediate family.
We don’t need well meaning but ignorant lobbyists shouting the odds about the right to life and waving placards. It is none of their business. Far better if they took voluntary employment in a care home where they could wipe bottoms and change soiled sheeets and feed the inmates and then, if they still felt the need to wave placards, they could see first hand the damage and distress they are causing.
There is absolutely nothing wrong about dying with dignity.