How do you define ‘dying’?

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Where you die when you go to Dignitas


Sarah Wootton, chief exec of Dignity in Dying, wrote in Friday’s Times about the case of Paul Lamb, who wants to be allowed to die:  

Dignity in Dying is not fighting for an unfettered right to die, but for the right of dying people to die well. We believe that right must be based on two core criteria: terminal illness and mental competence. Mr Lamb is mentally competent, but not terminally ill. Our proposed law would not help him. 

Any law must balance the rights of the individual against the needs of society. A small but significant minority of dying Britons are suffering unbearably, against their wishes, at the end of life. I am certain that we can implement a law that would give them the freedom to reduce their suffering without compromising the safety of potentially vulnerable people. 

Restricting the law to those with a terminal illness would protect those who have recently become disabled and have yet to come to terms with their situation, or those facing new and difficult, but ultimately controllable, symptoms of a chronic condition. It is also important that patients take the final action themselves. This ensures that they are in complete control of the decision about how and when they die. 

“I am not without a heart,” Wootton says, “but still I cannot fully support [Lamb’s] case.” 

Wootton is taking into consideration here the acceptability of right-to-die legislation to the public. What she wants, 80 per cent of the population wants. Extend the right to people who are simply fed up with living and acceptability plunges to just 40 per cent. 

She may also have been thinking about Belgium, where euthanasia has increased by 4,620 per cent in just ten years. 

In Belgium, there lived two identical twins, Marc and Eddy Verbessem. Both were born deaf. They never married, but lived together and worked as cobblers.

When they were 45 they were diagnosed with a form of glaucoma which meant that they would shortly go blind. When they learned this they were very sad and felt they had nothing to live for any more. They went to their local hospital and asked for euthanasia. The hospital said no.

So they went to another hospital. The doctors listened to their story kindly and empathically. They agreed with Marc and Eddy that their outlook was very bleak indeed and, yes, their lives had lost all value.  So they killed them with a lethal injection.

This happened a fortnight before last Christmas, 2012. It was entirely legal. 

Responses to Wootton’s article are interesting.

Simon Roue says: “Having the debate about whether people have the right to take their own life seems hopelessly outmoded in a society that de-criminalised suicide in the 1960s.” 

Robin Thomas says: “Sarah Wootton is right to draw our attention to the distinction between her campaign (for the ‘dying’) and Mr Lamb’s (for those living in hell). But ultimately I wonder if this is a distinction without difference? Are we not all dying, just some faster than others?” 

Mike Gratton says: “Frankly madam I could not care less whether or not you are with or without a heart. I have a terminal illness and my life is my concern . Keep your “conscience” to yourself. We sufferers feel the pain, not your conscience.”



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