It is pleasing to see the debate about the so-called ‘right to die’ issue crop up again and again in the newspapers. To me that means, as an issue, voluntary euthanasia just won’t go away and will have to be addressed by appropriate legislation. This current spate of newspaper articles and interviews are related to the GMC’s guidance being published.
Cultural acceptance seems to be growing with support groups, some journalists and now the GMC with its publication of its guidance in regard to the expected behaviour of medical staff attending patients who express a wish to end their lives by refusing treatment. Usually the decision is made because the patient has a terminal illness and there is no hope of recovery. Medical staff are not expected to put their own wishes before those of the patient wishing to die.
‘Doctors must also follow the wishes of patients as communicated through a friend or relative who has been designated their “legal proxy”, says the GMC. Telegraph 19 May2010.
The ‘living will’ has been around for some time and has had legal status since 2005. It can be brought into play by the patient or his/her legal proxy. Medical staff can ask to be relieved of their duties in such cases if they desire. There will always be the Ethics Committees but frankly, people will do what they want to do even if death is the chosen option. And so they ought as far as I am concerned.
It isn’t really such an issue anyway. There is a statement from Dr Peter Saunders (Telegraph – 6 July 2009) pointing out that here has not been a prosecution in ten years and that the 115 Britons going to Switzerland represent less than one in every 50,000 deaths over the same time period.
Most, if not all, humanist and human rights organisations, voluntary euthanasia and Death with Dignity organisations and rational thinkers are of the mind that people ought to be allowed to determine their own death as they have been able to determine their own life. However, according to the Medical Law Review, being allowed to do something is not always the same as having a right to do it.
There was a wonderful piece shown on the ABC in Australia in May 2007 about older people breaking the law in order to produce the banned drug Nembutal. They were ensuring that they could manufacture sufficient drugs to enable their deaths when the time came. There was a lot of humour but the underlying message was quite clear. Without taking such matters into their own hands, they could well end up with carbon monoxide poisoning (not bad), hanging (barbaric) shooting (appalling) or suffocating (undignified).
The somewhat disingenuous argument that the kids will convince the aged parents to top themselves in order to inherit the estate has finally been given the kibosh. In countries where voluntary euthanasia is legislated for, there are no more assisted deaths or suicides than one would expect if there were no such legislation.
Organisations like Dignitas in Zurich tend to see more than its share of people coming to die in a place that is geared for and supportive of people determining their own deaths. Peter and Penelope Duff organised a good death for themselves at the beginning of 2009. Their daughter praised her parents’ decision and Dignitas provided the proper place. If all civilised countries provided for deaths and assisted suicides as does Switzerland, no doubt the burden would be lifted from Dignitas.
We are living for longer and of course our bodies will deteriorate. Risk of cancers increases with ageing as do autoimmune diseases and other ailments that contribute to failing health. As religion starts to lose its hold over individuals, then there will be an increase in the number of those wishing to die in the face of debilitating and/or terminal disease.
The resistance of legislators to enact decent humane legislation covering this issue stems from the old, outmoded and outdated influence from the religious and quasi religious organisations that are losing their say in the public sphere. And about time too. There are a lot of old fashioned, inappropriate and irrelevant acts of parliament and political influences that need to be addressed sooner rather than later.
We have to grow up sometime. We are running out of time to enjoy a Homo sapiens adulthood!!!