Assisted Suicide

The possible legalisation of assisted suicide has been much in the news recently with, most recently, the British Medical Journal publishing an article in favour of doctors being allowed to take part in it (Cristina Odone blogged about it here and I largely agree with her).

Whether you are religious or not, life is a precious thing which should not be given up lightly. I realise that some people do come to the end of their lives in a state of prolonged and unbelievable misery and I honestly can’t object to them wanting to end it but it is such a grey area that such cases must always be treated as exceptional, not routine.

My mother developed Motor Neurone Disease in her early sixties and died eighteen months later. Over the years she had often expressed the view that were she to contract some such terminal illness she would want to end it all quickly and cleanly. In reality, although the quality of her life declined hugely, there were still many aspects of it that she enjoyed right up until the end although she could no longer speak and had great difficulty moving around. She certainly never mentioned suicide to me again after her diagnosis.

When the time came, she was fortunate enough to die quickly and, as far as we could tell, painlessly, sitting on the sofa in her garden room with a mug of tea and the Daily Telegraph sudoku on her lap. She didn’t even spill the tea. Her carer thought she had dozed off and it was only when my brother – then a junior doctor – returned from his night shift and looked in on her that he saw that she had died.

The truth is that ‘medicalised’ suicide is not that much different from the ‘medicalised’ executions conducted in the United States. It’s a more aesthetically agreeable way of killing a person but it is still killing. My view is that it should not be regarded as just another possible treatment pathway.