Opinion: It must be everyone’s right to end a life bereft of any dignity, what do you think?

Coronation Street characters Hayley Cropper with her husband Roy in the dramatic television storyline which has prompted a public debate on assisted suicide. Picture: ITV / PA Wire Coronation Street characters Hayley Cropper with her husband Roy in the dramatic television storyline which has prompted a public debate on assisted suicide. Picture: ITV / PA Wire

Monday, January 27, 2014
2:24 PM

We can smoke ourselves into an oncology ward and drink until our yellow liver holds up the white flag but we can’t decide to end a life of pain without a tussle in the courtroom – it’s a sad state of affairs when we treat our suffering pets better than we treat our fellow humans.

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Locked-in syndrome sufferer Tony Nicklinson with his wife Jane in August 2012. Picture: Emma Hallett / PA WireLocked-in syndrome sufferer Tony Nicklinson with his wife Jane in August 2012. Picture: Emma Hallett / PA Wire

Last Monday, after a heart-wrenching storyline on Coronation Street, Hayley – brilliantly played by Julie Hesmondhalgh – decided to pip her terminal cancer at the post by taking a cocktail of drugs, ending her life before it could.

Predictably, there was an outcry from the religious right who fight with fire and brimstone when it comes to taking decisions out of their God’s hands. People would copy Hayley, they said, and life is sacred regardless of piffling notions such as agony, despair and hopelessness.

Assisted suicide or euthanasia has always been fraught with potential pitfalls.

Critics argue that a change in the law to allow the practice in the UK would encourage hordes of ruthless relatives to bump off dear old Gran as soon as she became a burden or provide an unwanted death sentence to those unable to articulate their burning desire to live.

They wheel out gracious disabled people eager to spread their Pollyanna-style zeal for life – good for them, I say – some people may be happy to cling to life regardless of pain, immobility, helplessness and the lack of dignity that their life may involve, and their wishes should be observed.

Others feel that the taking of life before the expiry date on the packet is the ultimate sin regardless of circumstance and that suffering should never outweigh the desire to live.

But the point is that for many – probably most – of us, merely surviving is no substitute for really living.

Imagine being confined to a hospital bed, unable to breathe without a ventilator, unable to swallow, to move, to speak normally; watching as others carry out dignity-stripping acts of intimate care on the body you once looked after so proudly.

You haven’t left your bed in years.

The chance of your condition improving even slightly would involve a miracle. Most importantly, you have decided that you no longer want to live this life, that you would rather regain the control you’ve lost and stick a hearty two fingers up at the Grim Reaper.

For all our politically-correct bleating about equal rights for the disabled, there is still one area where we like to apply an able-bodied strongarm.

Bless the disabled with their quaint ideas about controlling their own destiny, we think, but we can’t really allow them to make such big, grown-up decisions.

We’ll decide for them, preferably after a drawn-out, stressful court procedure held under the media glare.

I could kit myself out with a DIY suicide kit that would see me shuffle off this mortal coil without any busybody muscling in and spouting nonsense about the pearly gates clanging shut the second I wend my weary way towards heaven.

In short, I could top myself with the greatest of ease and you’d only notice next Monday when I was replaced by a news story about the bus station or the Northern Distributor Road.

Gravely ill people, like Tony Nicklinson who had a catastrophic stroke which left his body paralysed but his intellect undimmed and who unsuccessfully challenged the law on assisted suicide in the High Court yet had to resort to the undignified method of refusing food in order to die, are not afforded the same opportunities. They must rely on others to help them and in doing so they are asking their saviour to put themselves in peril.

A decent, caring doctor with the well-being of their patient foremost in their mind who assists a pain-free and dignified death can be charged with murder.

A partner or parent who has nursed their loved one for years and has borne witness to their unbearable suffering can end up in the dock for helping them end a tortured, hellish existence.

No one, least of all the drum-banging anti-euthanasia brigade, can quantify when life becomes no longer worth living – that decision is intensely and necessarily private.

If I ever find myself in the position where life is too painful, I can only hope that sense will have prevailed, the law will have changed and I will be granted a dignified, controlled death at a time of my choosing without condemning a relative, friend or sympathetic doctor to an investigation.

I’m happy for those who object on religious or ethical grounds to suffer as much as they like – it’s someone else’s God, not mine, and if the chips are down, I want to be the one calling the shots.

6 comments

  • I cannot believe we still find ourselves in this position. Surely if we do not own the right to our own lives we own nothing at all. The principle is far more important than the issue of its abuse. If we had tackled this decades ago people could have put on record there wishes prior to any illness or deterioration similar to the donor card system that could be witnessed and specific criteria noted and followed. I really cannot believe we live in such a barbaric society that forces people to suffer against their wishes.

    Report this comment

    Kurt Fricker

    Monday, January 27, 2014

  • I cannot believe we still find ourselves in this position. Surely if we do not own the right to our own lives we own nothing at all. The principle is far more important than the issue of its abuse. If we had tackled this decades ago people could have put on record there wishes prior to any illness or deterioration similar to the donor card system that could be witnessed and specific criteria noted and followed. I really cannot believe we live in such a barbaric society that forces people to suffer against their wishes.

    Report this comment

    Kurt Fricker

    Monday, January 27, 2014

  • When I was younger, I watched my Gran die the most appalling, painful, frightening death. She had suffered a catastrophic stroke and was put on what I guess now is the Liverpool Care Pathway. She had been deprived of food and water for many days, but her heart was strong and she didn't die. Instead, she writhed, moaned, cried out and was clearly in agony for days on end before she finally starveddehydrated to death. If I had of known where the hospital kept the drugs and the knowledge of how to administer them I would have had no hesitation in hastening her end. The trauma of watching this has given me nightmares for 20 years, and as a consequence I have a living will in place. I can see no difference between a person having the choice when they die or doctors effectively starving them to death. Morally they are the same- neither is right but I know which one I'd prefer.

    Report this comment

    Fluffy Cat

    Tuesday, January 28, 2014

  • I cannot believe we still find ourselves in this position. Surely if we do not own the right to our own lives we own nothing at all. The principle is far more important than the issue of its abuse. If we had tackled this decades ago people could have put on record there wishes prior to any illness or deterioration similar to the donor card system that could be witnessed and specific criteria noted and followed. I really cannot believe we live in such a barbaric society that forces people to suffer against their wishes.

    Report this comment

    Kurt Fricker

    Monday, January 27, 2014

  • Society, doesn't allow people to be abused because of their age,sex,colour,religion or sexual orientation but it does allow them to suffer against their will if they wish to die. It seems ironic that those people who defend the right for a person to live without fear because of who they are,or choose to be, still refuses to accept that some people should have the right to choose to end their own their life if they see fit. Strange?

    Report this comment

    Bad Form

    Wednesday, January 29, 2014

  • I cannot believe we still find ourselves in this position. Surely if we do not own the right to our own lives we own nothing at all. The principle is far more important than the issue of its abuse. If we had tackled this decades ago people could have put on record there wishes prior to any illness or deterioration similar to the donor card system that could be witnessed and specific criteria noted and followed. I really cannot believe we live in such a barbaric society that forces people to suffer against their wishes.

    Report this comment

    Kurt Fricker

    Monday, January 27, 2014

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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