Assisted suicide and the High Court


What an ending that need not have been

It makes me immeasurably sad that Tony Nicklinson lost the verve and vigour with which he seemed to live his life. He had fought so hard for the right to live and die on his own terms. And he lost his life today not because it was easy – he had to refuse food and contract pneumonia. In his weakened state he died. No thanks to the society in which he spent 58 years and from which all he requested was compassion and the absolving of legal blame for his doctors.

I am appalled that the judges sitting in the High Court refused his case to allow him to die with the aid of his doctors. Their reasoning was the same as Pontius Pilate’s. Let’s wash our hands of any decision making and slough the responsibility off onto the Parliamentary system.

Nicklinson and his family tried so hard to comply with the law and sought to absolve any legal blame from doctors for helping him to die.

 “He said that he was heartbroken by the High Court decision that he could not end his life at a time of his choosing with the help of a new doctor.

 “He could not understand how the legal argument on his behalf could not succeed.”

She said Mr Nicklinson had told her two days after the ruling he was “crestfallen, totally devastated and very frightened” BBC News

He had added: “I fear for the future and the misery it is bound to bring. I suppose it was wrong of me to invest so much hope and expectation into the judgement but I really believed in the veracity of the argument and quite simply could not understand how anybody could disagree with the logic.”

As ambient citizens with our wits about us, we are able to plan and execute (good word that) our own suicides should our lives become intolerable. The act of suicide was decriminalised in the UK in 1961.

My husband successfully suicided in 1966 in Australia. A lot of suicides are successful and I am sure that it has partly to do with the (now erroneous) perception that if you should fail you will be put behind bars in either gaols or psychiatric institutions. The methods needed to effect suicide are primitive and horrendous. My husband used a .22 calibre single shot rifle. In the 21st century we deny people the right to buy medication to help death. It costs over £10,000 to fly to Switzerland and engage Dignitas to help extinguish a life. Otherwise it involves ropes and stools, carbon monoxide, ingestion of excessive amounts of drugs or gas ovens or even diving off cliffs or swimming out so far you can’t possibly get back. Pretty barbaric in a so-called modern society.

Why hasn’t the UK a physical place or places (preferably not in an industrial estate) where its citizens can end their lives with ease and dignity in a loving, accepting atmosphere, with family and friends in attendance.

For the few, the very few who are unable to execute any plan to end their lives because they need physical help to do so, and legally any help will be classed as murder, the High Court decision must bring them to tears of frustration and a hitherto not understood appreciation of callous human behaviour. Their families also suffer from this inhumanity.

My heart is heavy for the likes of Nicklinson and Martin – who is still alive and locked into his miserable existence; one can hardly call it a life when he doesn’t see it that way himself.

That judges in their inhumane but vociferous denial who play the hand-wringing and washing game devolving law change to the Parliament rather than granting special case criteria for the Nicklinsons of the world, I have little time and certainly no compassion.

This tragic tale will play out again and again because the politicians have no gumption to change a law to allow compassion for these very few. They are bound to the funders of their election campaigns and they only see four years ahead.

Nicklinson’s final words should alert us to our backwardness:

 “It cannot be acceptable in 21st Century Britain that I am denied the right to take my own life just because I am physically handicapped.”

Oh Tony – It is sad that you died from an infection and a lack of nutrition. It didn’t need to be this way. I fear for this inflexible society that cannot bend for fear of cracking. Religious robes are ironed with starch.



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