Saturday, 25 July 2009

Assisted suicide – the thin end of a nasty wedge

There is an ongoing propaganda war underway to make assisted suicide legal, despite the opposition of doctors.

LadyThe morality of suicide doesn’t bother me too much but I’m implacably opposed to the principle of assisted suicide for several reasons.

Firstly, whatever assurances are made and whatever safeguards are put in place, some older people will come under pressure to top themselves. For a few with particularly lazy, self-centred or callous children the pressure would come soon after a change in the law. Within a generation it would undoubtedly be widespread.

Secondly it is widely recognised that people who are depressed are more prone to commit suicide. Legitimising suicide will cut short the lives of some who might otherwise have recovered and gone on to many more happy and productive years.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the effect on our culture and attitudes over several generations is highly uncertain. Western culture instinctively regards human life as precious in and of itself, regardless of whose it is. Medical staff will battle to save the life of a patient, whether that patient is a prince or a pauper. Legitimising suicide slowly erode that attitude. Once we take the momentous first step down that road, who knows where it may end? The champions of assisted suicide for the terminally ill would be as opposed as I to a program like Hitler’s T4, but that is where our grandchildren may end up if we commit them to that path.

Two things remain to be said about this. Firstly it is outrageous to make the casual assumption that it would be a doctor’s job to assist suicide. I remember discussing it with a surgeon on one occasion who said “I wouldn’t do it. Let them hire some public executioners”. Even from an actuarial point of view it is nonsense. The practical arrangements required to kill people are easy. In a world where much of the population don’t have access to good medical care, doctors have better things to do.

Secondly suicide is usually a pretty selfish act. It may relieve my actual or anticipated suffering, but at the expense of the grief of relatives. A six year old really doesn’t want to hear that Granny is dead by her own hand.