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By ATWadmin On June 12th, 2008

This is a tough one and my own views are conflicted and I wonder what YOU think?

I refer to the case where a woman with severe multiple sclerosis has won a judicial review to clarify the law that makes it a crime to help someone commit suicide. Debbie Purdy wants an assurance that her husband will not be prosecuted if he helps her travel abroad to a suicide clinic once her illness becomes unbearable. She was diagnosed in 1995 with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis, which is incurable and worsens unpredictably. She has been dependent on a wheelchair since 2001, takes a daily regime of painkillers and is in frequent danger of choking. She is a member of Dignitas, the controversial Swiss suicide clinic which has helped almost 100 Britons die.

Now then, where to start? This couple are in a terrible position, and she is dying a horrible death. So if she and her partner wants to ease her suffering it is understandable. But if a blind eye is turned, it also sets a precedent and that could also have some very dangerous implications. I believe that life is sacred and I do not like the idea of clinics that finish life off. But my heart goes out to this couple and I think to myself what if it were MY wife, what would I do? I don’t know for sure but I will say this – my love for her would ensure that I did whatever we agreed was best, and to hell with the consequences for me. I’m just being honest here – I know it is very wrong to assist in the taking of life but I also know that I could not bear to see my wife suffer in the awful way this lady is suffering. What do you think?


  1. David –

    As tough a case as this is, I support still the outlawing of assisted suicide in the UK. Once you concede the principle you will always lose ground and we’ll very soon end up with much more than lawful assisted suicide.

    Since she wants to die in Switzerland, however, and her husband would not be violating Swiss law, the British state has no legitimage business involving itself in the matter.

  2. An incredibility difficult issue, but I agree that there is a great danger of abuse and having it expand which is why the bar on it should remain.

  3. The law should immediately be clarified to allow people to make full dignified choices about their own life and death and to avoid forcing on someone not only the worry of consequences at such difficult times but to avoid the upheaval of going to Switzerland aswell.

    As if we don’t have the wherewithall to manage such an important and personal issue responsibly. The slippery slope arguments are totally bogus and incredibly cruel.

    I am grateful my friend’s mother passed before they were forced to make that trip but the enormous pressure it brought to bear on them at such a painful time was vile and unnecessary. Her daughter would however have suffered the consequences of their mutual and long and well considered decision but the additional pain it added at that time was off the charts.

    The state has NO business whatsoever in meddling in how much a citizen and family should suffer or not and over their right to full choice in such circumstances.

  4. I disagree Alison, even while I understand the compelling sentiment behind it. Many people who have been involved in assisted suicides were simply depressed, or had non-terminal conditions. Euthenasia proponents often ignore this fact. The state does have a right to protect these people who are vunerable and often not in a frame of mind to make this type of decision. That doesn’t make it any easier on families who suffer, but life isn’t always supposed to be easy.

  5. Mahons

    The State can be smart enough to ensure that enough measures are put in place to balance the issues without flippantly forcing people down this horrendous route.

    People with such illnesses are usually depressed by the way. Because their lives are filled with suffering.

    Damn right it doesn’t make it any easier on the families though. But with families involved it is incumbent upon everyone to listen to their concerns and understanding of the individual they love which is better placed than the State. This is why it is wholly wrong to ignore that fact. The State has no business arbitrarily limiting choice at such a time.

    I also find it highly fascinating that people lend more concern to suspected terrorists incovenienced rights over 42 days than to wholly innocent individuals suffering indefinitely.

    As with all these arguments it is about finding balance, the middle way, safeguards – and not being absolute.

  6. Mahons,

    "An incredibility difficult issue, but I agree that there is a great danger of abuse and having it expand which is why the bar on it should remain."

    That is why we have judges, right? Many deaths happen accidentally but we don’t insist that they all be treated as murder just because of the scope for abuse. But murderers do try to make deaths look like accidents and probably murderers will try to make murders look like euthanasia also. This is not an argument for banning it.

    That said there is terrible scope for abuse. The care of the elderly is in a pretty dire state and it’s all too easy to imagine somebody being killed just to free up a bed. This however is not a justification for making someone else suffer needlessly and against their will.

  7. Alison: You are bringing other issues into this debate that have nothing to do with it, aside from your ever-increasing intolerance to those who don’t subscribe to your viewpoint.

    Frank: The problem I have with it is where do we define the appropriate level of suffering, is it terminal? People can have a terminal disease for some time, many can be managed. Is it those who suffer from advanced senility? Is it those who are merely depressed and do not want to go on living despite no physical ailment or a treatable or non-life threatening ailment?

  8. I think the State should vehemently and officially oppose suicide. And go after people like Kerkokian who actively promote and profit from assisted suicide..

    And, I agree with Alison, a blind eye should be turned in this case. It is an individual’s private moral decision, afterall. Not the States.

  9. If i was intolerant of your views i wouldn’t be responding to them openly on a blog where you can challenge them and vice versa. My last sentence is a whole lot more open to ALL the considerations than your own intolerant view. I am not the one dismissing the people at the heart of the issue for a start. And you know full well this relates fundamentally to people’s liberties and state intervention in them. Your own nose being out of joint with that fact does not detract from the two reasonable comments i posted above regards balance and consideration of libertes in the issue.

  10. David – interestng post title. I know you support the human right to end life as you are in favour of the death penalty in certain cases aren’t you? So you do have some trust in the potential decisions made by your fellow man!

  11. This is a difficult issue. I can understand why it should continue to be illegal. Perhaps the law should remain but be amended to require each case to be tested in the courts with the proviso that a case involving a genuine humane end to terminal suffering should be absolved completely , rather than actually changing the law to make such actions automatically legal.

  12. Mahons,

    "The problem I have with it is where do we define the appropriate level of suffering, is it terminal? People can have a terminal disease for some time, many can be managed. Is it those who suffer from advanced senility? Is it those who are merely depressed and do not want to go on living despite no physical ailment or a treatable or non-life threatening ailment?"

    Probably there would be overwhelming support for someone who wanted to end their life a little early to avoid guaranteed and objective future suffering. Probably none at all for a teenager who wanted to end it all because there was no point in living if his favorite band split up. In between you have the cases you mention which are generally about people with no expectation of quality of life – in which case they should at least be able to decide in advance how they want it to be.

    Anyway it’s not really a question of where do you stop, it’s where do you start.

  13. Fair points Frank.

  14. I think doctor assisted suicide quietly happens on a regular basis for terminally ill patients who are clearly suffering and have expressed their wishes to their doctor. I think this is a very personal decision between the person with the illness and their family – the state needs to stay out of it.

    I like Pete’s first comment on the thread, if she’s planning on dying in Switzerland, the British government needs to mind their own business.

  15. Daphne -that is true to an extent. But then you get a nut like Dr. Kevorkian who killed nonterminal people.

  16. Daphne

    The State always has a duty to protect the individual . They need to strike a balance between a humane acceptance of the need to end suffering and defending against the potential for ill judged decisions or pressures to be put on individuals in certain cases. That is why I believe each case should be judged and explained before a tribunal of some kind.

  17. Oh this is such a difficult area. There is no nice answer. I come down reluctantly on the side of assited suicide being illegal (but would probably want no-one who was doing it for the right motivation to be charged with it).

    One of the worries I have with euthanasia is that people who are sick and frail can be made to feel like a burden and acquese to the suggestion out of guilt.

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