When death is no longer the worst thing that can happen to you

Charles 2 Comments

It’s not the worthy efforts of the members of the Dying Matters coalition that have raised awareness of the need to talk about death and dying. What’s actually got more and more of us talking is our personal experiences of the difficult and protracted end-of-life suffering of members of our families. Alongside twenty-first century death agony, extinction is the least we have to fear. Bring it on, goes up the cry, as, just this week, the Falconer Assisted Dying Bill passed its first reading in the House of Lords, Vermont became the fourth state in the USA to legislate for assisted suicide (let’s call it what it is, shall we, Charlie?) and in liberal (if that’s the right word) Switzerland an 80 year old woman in perfectly good health appealed to the European Court of Human Rights to be allowed to go now rather than get any older. She’s had enough, thanks. 

Live issues in this debate are: 1) what constitutes suffering; 2) the right of the state to limit personal autonomy and an individual’s right to self-determination; 3) the duty of doctors to write a prescription for those who ask for a chemical exit; and 4) the protection of those going through a depressive patch or who are susceptible to duress from predatory relatives, etc.

Over time, of course, this is going to reconfigure attitudes to funerals. 

In the context of all this, I was struck by the following letter in last Sunday’s Sunday Times:  

It isn’t just dementia that thwarts our plans. I also dread the disease that robbed me of my mother, and the thought of my daughter changing my nappies and enduring tyrannical rages  and repeated conversations fills me with dismay.

So strong are my feelings that five years ago I wrote a detailed advance directive,  had it witnessed, shared it with my family and lodged a copy with my GP. I take little comfort from this as it  appears that some people — who do not know me but  have some religious or ethical opinion — are insisting they have more rights over my  body than me.

Why should the limited resources of this tiny planet be used on my dribbling, deranged shell when I’ve requested otherwise?

Sue Parkes, Halesowen, West Midlands


  1. Charles

    An interesting definition in this draft assisted dying bill, with regard to registering the death:

    “… This defines assisted dying as another way of dying, i.e. something different from ‘natural death’, but not suicide. Therefore assisted deaths would not need to be reported to coroners as they would not be suicide…”

    In 4, subsection 4, the proposed bill stipulates the medicine must be self-administered, and that no health professional may go further than to assist the person in administering it to themselves; so is the above definition simply a rather clumsy way to smoothe out the paperwork for this contentious development, or a genuinely new cause of death?

  2. Charles

    This is progress; tentative, but progress nontheless.
    In this current proposal the person has to be ‘terminally ill with a prognosis of twelve months or less to live’. (though the consultation paper has options for this period to be reduced to 6 or even 3 months); the medicine can be self administered; it can be done at home.
    The doctor still has a big voice, and has to give the final thumbs down; and there is a ‘sunset’ clause where this legislation can be withdrawn after 10 years.
    However, there is still room for manouver through response to the consultation paper.
    And better than a trip to a Mexico vet for your very own bottle of Nembutal.

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