The storm brewing over the unnamed Welsh woman, an anorexic who wants to die, has come to an unsatisfactory legal conclusion – so far. It sets a poor precedent in a so-called free, democratic country.
A judge sitting in the Court of Protection has issued a ruling that she is to be force fed on the grounds of an assumed diminished capacity of the woman to make her own decisions. Well, I guess that was the only criterion the Court could use.
Understandably people have difficulty with this. Both the wishes of the woman in question and the ruling of the judge are problematic.
On one hand, we live in a society where people have independent control over their lives. This woman apparently made a living will firstly indicating a desire to die and then later amended it because she wanted to live and (but?) wanted to make her own decisions about her future. I suppose this seeming vacillation formed the basis of diminished capacity.
We are told she is intelligent and charming; a former medical student. We are also told that those who know her best think there should be no interference from the state and that she should be allowed to die if that is her wish.
I know that personally, I think if people want to die then they have every right to determine that themselves.
We all have pictures of people deciding to jump from the bridge or the high rise building ledge and the do-gooder talking the would-be suicide out of it. We know of young teenagers making suicide pacts on facebook and then dying. We know that people like Arthur Koestler and his wife decided to die together.
We know of severely disabled people like Tony Nicklinson who want to die but no one will let him. Then we have the psychiatrists telling us that some suicides are ‘just’ a cry for help.
It isn’t that long ago that attempted suicide was illegal punishable by incarceration. Now it is punishable by a psychiatric treatment regime.
Unfortunately for this woman, her hospice stay came to the attention of her local authority who presumably felt it their civic duty to interfere and seek court intervention.
What an impossible situation for all parties. The resolution, to my mind, should be to continue the palliative care and allow the woman her rights as a human being. But you can imagine the churches’ reaction if the judge had not made this ruling.
‘The judge added: “E is a special person, whose life is of value. She does not see it that way now, but she may in future.
“I would not overrule her wishes if further treatment was futile, but it is not. Although extremely burdensome to E, there is a possibility that it will succeed.”’
Defending the rights of the state to keep people alive against their wishes will open up the euthanasia debate – that can only be a good thing, provided the churches keep their sticky fingers out of it. But what about defending the rights of the ‘special’ individual to determine her own death?
We can all feel compassion for this woman, but should it extend to denying her right to die? I, for one, don’t think so. Of course, I don’t know the details, but it is glaringly obvious that a woman who refuses solid food for a year and states she has no reason to live, actually wants to die.
I don’t think it is anyone’s place to try to predict a future where she may see a value in her life that she hasn’t seen since she made this decision. I do think it reasonable to let someone die if that is what he or she wants.
The latest news from British Columbia is:
A British Columbia Supreme Court judge has declared Canada’s laws against physician-assisted suicide unconstitutional because they discriminate against the physically disabled
In her ruling, Smith noted suicide itself is not illegal, and therefore the law against assisted suicide contravenes Section 15 of the charter, which guarantees equality, because it denies physically disabled people like Taylor the same rights as able-bodied people who can take their own lives, she ruled.
Maybe we can use this reasoning in the UK and let Tony Nicklinson win his legal battle so he can die.
- Two sides in assisted-suicide debate remain worlds apart: Douglas Todd (vancouversun.com)
- Right to Assisted Suicide in British Columbia (Kolber) (lawprofessors.typepad.com)
- Woman wins right to die (lfpress.com)