Friday, August 27, 2010

Voices in the wilderness

Proponents of assisted suicide appear determined to have their way, law or no law.

The Dutch group NVVL are exploring the possibility of opening an assisted suicide facility for clients with psychiatric issues, Alzheimer's or dementia. "There's nothing in the law of the Netherlands to stop them from doing this," says Alex Schadenberg, of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. "The whole thing is sick from the beginning."

One of NVVL's leaders, Eugene Sutorius, is one of a group of academics who have been demanding the legalisation of euthanasia for people who are simply "tired of life." "Once a society decides that killing is an acceptable answer to human suffering," says bioethicist Wesley J. Smith, "that which is deemed 'suffering' will continue to expand until just about any category of suicidal person will eventually qualify."

Switzerland became so concerned about its reputation as a destination for suicide tourism that it planned a tightening of the law. But now Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf wants the law extended to include chronically ill as well as terminally ill. Once the door to killing is opened, its scope may be increased, but is never likely to be decreased.

In the UK, Dr Michael Irwin, who admits having helped several people end their lives and has been dubbed "Dr Death" by a number of newspapers, is co-ordinating a new organisation advocating the legalisation of assisted suicide for people who are not terminally ill, but merely tired of life.

And Dr Libby Wilson, an 84-year-old retired Scottish doctor facing prosecution in an assisted sucide case, has had charges against her dropped. She is said to have given advice to an English academic who committed suicide. A Crown Prosecution Service spokeswoman said there was no evidence that the advice Dr Wilson gave contributed significantly to the outcome. "What jury would have convicted me?" said Dr Wilson. "I would not hesitate to provide information again if someone asked me."

Fortunately, there are still some voices crying in the wilderness. Like that of Baroness Campbell, who fights bravely for her fellow disabled. "Disabled and terminally ill people need help and support to live, not to die. We cannot allow others to speak for us; especially those who seek to offer us the choice of a premature death. It is not a choice - it is to abandon us."

And Alison Davis, of No Less Human, herself disabled: "Sometimes what desperate people, disabled or not, need is to be given hope. What they definitely don't need is to be told they are right to feel so unhappy and that they would be better off dead. This is simply the moral equivalent of the practical example of seeing a person about to jump off a high bridge and giving them a push."

Then you can thank God with me for the stand of Nikki Kenward, a British activist who once spent five months in intensive care and now uses a wheelchair: "So we lurch towards a world where getting rid of imperfection is seen as an 'act of love.' Where, to want to be alive, despite 'differences,' invites a comment of 'not keeping an animal in that state.' Where those who are just plain terrified of pain or even old age, seek 'mercy killing' for those who remind them of the arbitrary nature of being alive. Where loving and valuing someone like me. . . is described as some form of 'religious mania,' or just plain 'sick.'

"So I reject your sympathy, your human rhetoric, your selfish ideal of a 'brave death' and I choose life, with all its imperfections, loneliness, loss and pain. I choose to be alive, despite you, and for you. Because I know that one day in the depths of your pain, your despair, your overwhelming fear, you might still want to be alive, to live in some way, to be allowed to go on."