Eric Avebury writes: Assisted dying

Over the last 20 years I have had a few close shaves that made me think about death, including a quadruple bypass, a burst colon, lung cancer and an aortic aneurysm. None of these were conditions that involved more than temporary pain and a fairly low risk, though as Hamlet’s mother says:

‘All that lives must die
Passing through nature to eternity.’

But then in August 2011 I was diagnosed with myelofibrosis, an incurable form of blood cancer, that ultimately leads to various unpleasant and painful symptoms, needing frequent blood transfusions to prevent the arteries seizing up with fibres. Would I then want to carry on with a Golgotha of suffering, affecting the family and carers, or would I sooner forego the last few weeks of misery?

More and more people are going to confront that dilemma, as medical science enables them to live fairly normal lives well beyond Psalm 90’s expectation that

‘the days of our years are three score years and ten….’.

But remember the rest of the verse:

‘….and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow’.

The final stages may be a crescendo of pain and suffering, from which death is the only release. How can we say that the law should deny people in this situation access to the exit door?

Terminally ill patients who are mentally competent ought surely to be able to get medical help to end their lives. Unless they are absolutely desperate, refusing medication or ceasing to eat or drink are not to be contemplated. A relative of mine who died in a care home not long ago used to say every time I visited her that she wished she could die, but it never occurred to her to do either.

It is estimated that one in ten suicides in England are by people with a terminal or chronic condition, and this implies that some 500 suicides a year are by people with a serious physical illness. The true number is probably higher because coroners are aware of the social stigma of a suicide verdict.

If those people had been able to consult their doctor about assisted dying, they could have been referred for expert counselling and might have decided to soldier on with life.

Ultimately, though, a patient has the right to make this decision, and to be helped to carry it out, relying on J S Mill’s principle that an individual’s freedom should only be restricted to prevent harm to others. This is the bedrock of Liberal thinking on personal liberty.

I reach this conclusion even though as a Buddhist I recognise the precept against the taking of life. But the Buddha taught the virtue of karuna, an active form of compassion which involves the alleviation of suffering, an intrinsic characteristic of the human condition.

This suffering may be not only the patient’s, but his immediate family’s as well. They may be physically, mentally or financially exhausted by the duty of care.

It remains the case that a patient can refuse treatment or refrain from eating and drinking without breaking the precept, but these are not pleasant ways to die,

The practical difficulty of deciding whether an illness is terminal are not insuperable. When I was first diagnosed with myelofibrosis, a consultant estimated that I had one year left of useful life and I’m still in reasonable shape 18 months later.

Finally, is it not inhuman to force a person who is determined to end his life to travel to Switzerland, with his carers, for the purpose? This is surely a matter on which the whole of Europe should adopt the same law, so that terminally ill patients are not forced to undertake long journeys across international frontiers as they approach death.

* Eric Lubbock, Lord Avebury, is a working peer, and Vice-Chair, Parliamentary Human Rights Group. He blogs here.

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52 Comments

  • I am in total agreement with you.

    I have lung cancer and am dreading the time when I cannot function because of pain. I don’t want to live like that and I don’t want my family to have to cope with seeing me like that.

    I hope you keep well and keep fighting for our right to die with dignity.

  • Very well said.

  • Paul Holmes 15th Jan '13 - 8:19pm

    But it is Stephen Hawkins choice. In any liberal society it should be down to the choice of the individual not the dictat or ‘conscience’ of politicians, doctors or priests.

    An excellent article Eric.

  • Stephen Hesketh 15th Jan '13 - 9:19pm

    A truly thoughtful and libertarian piece from a great Liberal.

    The time has come to sweep away taboos and superstitions relating to the taking of ones own life and us having to plead to Courts or professional carers to help us do so. Our lives belong to us as individual human beings and, in part to our loved ones – but not to the state, to religious institutions, cultural traditions or any other belief.

    Those who oppose the view put forward by Eric Avebury have every right to do so – but for themselves only. They can not claim to speak for those of us who, when the time comes, seek the freedom to die as we seek to live – with compassion.

  • An excellent article, thank you for sharing this. As a person who has suffered intractable pain for many years I completely agree with you, and I hope you keep on fighting for our right to die with dignity when we ourselves decide the time is right to end our suffering.
    Best wishes.

  • I would be very uncomfortable with doctors here being paid to kill patients.
    Which is the reality. Killing someone from compassionate reasons is still being willing to take a human life.

    Your line about financial pressures is rather scary.
    An elderly, frail, in-pain person I know of has been really worried that going into a care home would mean his own home being sold to pay for it, and his son and grandchildren missing out on their inheritance.
    Better to persuade gramps to ask the doctors to finish him off now: cheaper all round and he doesn’t want to be a bother.

  • I agree with Cassie, it would be quite wrong to encourage murder and suicide in our society.

  • Richard Dean 16th Jan '13 - 3:12am

    I agree with Cassie too. Assisted dying is a euphemism for killing. If I’m in pain I might want to kill myself, but why should that imply that I should give someone else the right to kill others apart from me? If my friend is in pain I may feel compassionate and desperate as a result, but why would that give me a right to allow her to choose to die? Wouldn’t such an donation really be for my benefit rather than hers!

    And anyway, why do we think we have a right to stop living? Most people have the ability to do so, but where does the “right” come from, if it exists? What is the principled basis? Is “liberalism” a political philosophy or an ethical one?

    There are many ways people can be pressurized, some subtle, unconscious even. There was a program on TV a while back with Terry Pratchett and it’s obvious that the TV cameras don’t see everything and sometimes you get the wrong impression but there was a guy who looked very much like he was being pressurized by his wife to choose to die rather than face a life of partial paralysis. What’s the observable difference between pressure, persuasion, encouragement, and free choice? This guy begged for water in his last moments – who’s to say whether he really wanted it in the end, after the point of no return had been passed?

    What would this do to motivation and recruitment to the medical profession? It’s a great thing to want to cure people, and to have their pain as a spur to achieve better. Wouldn’t a duty to assist a person who chose to die change that noble motivation rather radically? And create significant moral hazard issues?

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Jan '13 - 9:53am

    OK, suppose you have an elderly parent, alive but in poor health, whose care needs are eating up what would be your inheritance. And all that parent has to do is sign a form stating “I want to be killed” and all that stops and you get the dosh? To me this is the big issue here. Once this thing is in place, I can see enormous social pressure being put on people to “do the decent thing” and have themselves killed.

  • “And anyway, why do we think we have a right to stop living?”

    No doubt everyone has their own opinion about that – which is why the question for a liberal is: “Why do we think we have a right to prevent someone else from choosing to end their life?”

  • simon7banks 16th Jan '13 - 5:19pm

    I agree with Eric. My personal position, I think (I’m well aware that things tend to seem different if the dilemma has moved from the hypothetical to the actual) is that if there is any chance of fruitful life such as Stephen Hawking (not Hawkins) has had, one should struggle on. If there is not, I don’t believe God imposes further suffering. In any case, it’s a decision for the individual not for the state. I do, though, believe that there are real risks that vulnerable people could be railroaded into decisions that cleared beds or relieved paid carers, and so safeguards need to be strong.

  • Richard Dean 16th Jan '13 - 6:25pm

    I see a future where LibDem calls for Equality in Dying lead to a National Death Service which is eventually privatised to create a whole new industry with its own quality standards and training programs and supply chains and dependencies and regulations.

    I see an industry dominated by a few large companies offering a range of products from economy-death packages to the full monty including the omni-sex pre-death vestal virgin experience, discounts for those who choose more pain and the less expensive drugs, special offers for the young, lucrative commissions for people persuading their relatives to use company A rather than B, post-Christmas sales.

    Every human activity involves many mistakes. I see companies being sued for killing the wrong relative (like surgeons removing the wrong kidney), or for not killing and leaving someone in a worse state than before. I see people signing away their life and then changing their mind and being unable to do anything about it.

    I see a very, very sick society

  • Very commendable article, I am full of admiration. I feel that the subject of ” a right to die” does not have any moral or political answers. My personal view is similar to that of Lord Avebury; however, I can clearly see the logic of those who fear that people who are old or very sick could be encouraged to end their lives for other people’s convenience, or for others’ gain. I believe in a human being having the right to choose to die; at the same time there needs to be a mechanism to ensure (as far as is possibe in an imperfect world) that there is no “outside pressure” on any individual to end his/her life. For me the question of a ‘God’, and religion is not an issue. Neither I nor any citizen should be subject to restictions placed upon them by someone else’s religion beliefs – whatever that religion might be.

  • Stephen Hesketh 16th Jan '13 - 8:30pm

    Some of the anti arguments here are completely overstated – I’m just waiting for someone to suggest that assisted dying is only a cover to reduce winter fuel payments and free bus passes!

    Yes, of course we must build safeguards into any human system. Yes, we do have to protect vulnerable individuals from being pressurised into their life being ended early if this is not their very clear (perhaps pre-determined) will. The list of safeguards might even be drafted by those who oppose assisted dying.

    But I should like to ask opponents that is it not also true that as we approach the end of our lives, might it not be a genuine comfort to know that if the physical and or mental pain did become unbearable that we would not have to endure such an inhumane end and for our loved ones to have to suffer along with us. That knowledge may itself enable us to reach our end naturally.

    I do not belong to any religious faith and believe I have a right to die at a time (no not on demand!), in a way and perhaps in a place chosen by me – perhaps via a long standing living will-type document.

    I cannot avoid thinking however that many of those who can see nothing but trouble in having options open to us at the end of our lives or even having a rational debate about it are ultimately motivated by their own religious beliefs. This is not acceptable in a (large and small l) liberal society.

  • Richard Dean 16th Jan '13 - 9:14pm

    The classical liberal mistake is to assume that a thing that seems appropriate for oneself is appropriate for society. It’s like the do-gooder mentality that ends up doing harm. Unfortunately society is not as reasonable and fair and good as some LibDems believe themselves to be!

  • Hmm, a brief risk assessment weighing up the two options:
    A hypothetical, very rare person who is going to die like everyone else but is impatient and just wants it to hurry up a bit, but has to wait a little longer, or
    All the risks involved in encouraging murder and suicide in society.

    By the way, we have very good drugs to alleviate suffering these days. Perhaps there is a better case for legalising stronger pain relieving drugs which produce a sense of wellbeing (or a “high”), than legalising murder.
    Just remember, not everyone is perfect like you.

  • “Despite the Falconer commission being chaired and funded by pro-assisted dying campaigners, it concluded that the law must never allow anyone to kill another person.”

    In the sense that it must be the person concerned who actually presses the button or whatever.

    So what?

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Jan '13 - 11:49pm

    Stephen Hesketh

    But I should like to ask opponents that is it not also true that as we approach the end of our lives, might it not be a genuine comfort to know that if the physical and or mental pain did become unbearable that we would not have to endure such an inhumane end and for our loved ones to have to suffer along with us.

    If we’re living in our own homes, not able to get out much, and ok a bit smelly and forgetful, but still happy to sit and watch the telly or whatever, isn’t it a comfort that Junior is not constantly turning up with the “Sign here to be killed” form saying “Mum/dad, why don’t do just do the decent thing?”.

    As liberals I hope we would want to hear both sides of any argument, but it does seem to me this is one of those issues where people who think of themselves as liberals are so certain that they are right that they don’t want to hear counter-arguments. This tends to be the case with issues where the loudest voices against the conventional liberal position are “religious”.

    My position on this is based on having seen my mother-in-law go into residential care and die two weeks after the period of grace when the state pays for it ends. Had she lived on for years there, we would have had to sell her house to pay for the care and see thousands of pounds every month. As it is, we live very nicely mortgage free thanks to mum’s death.

    From this I can very much see the pressure of wanting someone else dead so you can benefit from the inheritance.

    Legislation often does have unintended consequences, something that was intended to be permitted under rare circumstances becomes the norm. I don’t think there are easy answers to this one, because yes I can see the argument that someone in pain should have the right to end it. However, I just can’t see an easy way to allow that without it becoming a gateway for pressurising anyone vulnerable who you want out of your way to be put out of your way.

  • “However, I just can’t see an easy way to allow that without it becoming a gateway for pressurising anyone vulnerable who you want out of your way to be put out of your way.”

    I must be missing something. Couldn’t precisely the same argument have been made against the legalisation of (non-assisted) suicide in 1961? Do you have any evidence that large numbers of people started encouraging elderly relatives to kill themselves in the early 1960s?

  • John Lubbock 18th Jan '13 - 3:37pm

    Paranoid prophecies about dystopian murderous future governments are nothing but distracting arguments made by people who’ve never had to visit elderly relatives who have no physical dignity left, are miserable and wish they could just die but aren’t allowed to. Who are you to say they should continue to suffer against their will?

    We’re here to talk about what being Liberal means, so if you don’t understand that Liberalism is about personal freedom from the state telling you what to do with your body, then I suggest you go back to reading the Daily Mail. Nobody’s going to tell you you have to die because you’re too old. It should be your choice. Currently it’s not your choice but effectively happens anyway since patients can pump themselves with so much morphine they drift off as humanely as possible.

    It is selfish in the extreme to think you know better than me what I should or should not be able to do with my body. Foucault said that power is the ability to make someone do something with their body, like march in formation, kill someone or be killed. These should only be your free choices and the law should safeguard the free choice of every person to do what they like with their body as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else – as per Mill’s harm principle. Conservatives have been consistently on the wrong side of history when it comes to personal liberty, from slavery to gay marriage, and it’s quite clear they’re losing this argument too, so I’d suggest stop trying to hold back the inevitable march of human progress. Thanks.

  • Richard Dean 18th Jan '13 - 4:10pm

    Anybody with an ounce of self-knowledge who has ever “had to visit elderly relatives who have no physical dignity left, are miserable and wish they could just die but aren’t allowed to” knows that the relief they are seeking is for themselves, not for their elderly relative.

  • Richard

    I wish you would answer the question you’ve been asked twice now:
    “Who are you to say they should continue to suffer against their will?”

    If someone wants to end their life, who is Richard Dean (or anyone else) to tell them they do not have the right to do so? And if someone is in severe pain, and there is no effective way of alleviating it, and if they wish to end their life in order to escape that pain, how is forcing them to remain alive against their will morally any different from actively torturing them?

  • John Lubbock 18th Jan '13 - 4:45pm

    Richard, really, what are you doing here? You’re a classic internet antagonist who’s just suggested that I’d like to kill my own relatives, so in all politeness, please, go take your insulting comments elsewhere.

  • Richard Dean 18th Jan '13 - 7:47pm

    Ah, I see I have elicited the classic liberal response – I don’t like your views, so stop being part of this discussion!

  • Richard Dean 18th Jan '13 - 7:53pm

    I’m not stopping someone from killing themselves, Chris. If you go to a private place and stop eating and drinking, you’ll be dead within two or three days. If your pain isn’t sufficient motivation to help you to do that, well, then you’ll have proved you can live with that pain, so someone else would have neither have a right or a duty to kill you.

  • John Lubbock 18th Jan '13 - 7:56pm

    No Richard, I’m afraid not. But I think that if you can’t be bothered to answer these peoples’ questions, I don’t know why you’re bothering to stay here. I assume it is just to antagonise people and elicit a response. In internet terminology, this is called trolling. You are a troll, trying to get a response. So I am not going to give you the response you want to your insinuations that I would like to kill my elderly relatives for my own financial benefit, which I hope you would agree is an incredibly insulting allegation. You clearly are an individual with too much time on his hands who likes to start arguments with people he knows do not share his views. So let me ask you this question again: how is keeping your relatives alive who are incontinent, miserable and lead a life no better than a sentient vegetable morally right when they sincerely want to die but cannot kill themselves? Both myself and Chris are saying that this position you take is ethically comparable to torturing someone. Why don’t you answer this question Richard? If you do not, it will be quite clear that you are here for the sole purpose of antagonising people rather than having a sensible discussion.

    I also submit that the classic Liberal response is to be polite and rational in the face of insulting irrationality. Your turn. :)

  • Richard Dean 18th Jan '13 - 8:06pm

    To be a little more logical, the limited abilities we all have to understand our own motivations, and the rather well developed abilities we all have to misinterpret others’ statements and to fool ourselves about why we do things, seem rather strong arguments for not providing the National Death Service that will be an inevitable result of Avebury’s proposals.

  • Richard Dean

    Actually, you posted a comment asking why people thought they had the right to make decisions about their own lives, and you did get the classic liberal response – you were asked what right you or anyone else had to prevent them from doing that. A question you seem to be unable or unwilling to answer,

    And it’s really not too hard to understand why John should think you are just trying to be provocative, is it? Self evidently this discussion is about people whose medical condition means they are unable to take their own lives, and therefore require assistance to do so.

    Your idea of a contribution to that debate is, apparently, to suggest that they should “go to a private place and stop eating and drinking”, and to add that if their pain is insufficient “motivation” to do that, they will have proved they can live with it.

    If you must amuse yourself by picking arguments with people on the Internet, sure you can think of less offensive ways of doing it?

  • Richard Dean 18th Jan '13 - 11:37pm

    Chris, what comment was that? This debate is about assisting.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Jan '13 - 11:44pm

    John Lubbock

    So let me ask you this question again: how is keeping your relatives alive who are incontinent, miserable and lead a life no better than a sentient vegetable morally right when they sincerely want to die but cannot kill themselves?

    I think you’re missing the point. You’re assuming that’s how it would be, but how can you make sure? How can you make sure this wouldn’t grow to social pressure on people whose existence others find annoying to get themselves killed? Or how do you stop it being used by the depressed young man or teenage girl who thinks life’s not worth living because her boyfriend dumped her? What you are saying is rather like those who bring up horrible crimes to argue for illiberal laws and claim those who are worried about the civil liberties implication are just cruel and selfish people who don’t understand the feelings of victims of crime. Those of us with concerns over civil liberties implication of what are billed as anti-crime measures might be less unhappy if we could be absolutely sure those measures would always be used with caution and for the purposes of combating the crime that’s being used to argue for them. But our concerns are on the hidden implications and the way these measures could be misused, because we can see there would be social pressure to misuse them and we can’t see in the proposals adequate bounds to stop them being misused.

  • Richard Dean 19th Jan '13 - 12:37am

    Another aspect of reality is that, for many people, the feelings we have about ourselves are significantly affected by what other people feel about us.

    We give caring cards to loved ones who are ill. Why? – because it helps them get better, or get better faster. Conversely, an impressionable person can be made to want to die simply by ignoring them – why else is solitary confinement so hard? – why do teenagers commit suicide because of internet bullying? Even serious pain can be bearable if one has emotional support, and mild pain can be unendurable if support is withdrawn.

    Avebury’s fear has been induced in him by others or by himself – obviously, since he isn’t saying he’s feeling that future pain now. Perhaps the proper human answer is to provide him with extra emotional support, rather than use him to further our own selfish aims?

  • John Lubbock 19th Jan '13 - 1:29pm

    Richard continues to decide what other people want for them, rather than letting them decide for themselves, in a classic conservative paternalistic response. Never having been in the situation in which your life is unbearable, Richard, I think you should leave it up to the person who is in immense pain to decide for themselves, after proper counseling.

    To Matthew, in response to your (and others’) continued objection based on the fear that it will be misused by this fictional ‘girl who is depressed because her boyfriend dumped her’, I would say this: do you really think that it is likely that a law would be written to allow suicide booths on every street corner for the capriciously minded vulnerable person to kill themselves on a whim? Or does that sound to you like an unfounded and paranoid fear about the future? It’s like this argument: ‘If we let gay people get married, we’d have to let polygamous people get married and let people marry animals, inanimate objects and other ridiculous things!!’ Does that sound likely to you, or an exaggerated straw man argument?

    I find it amusing that Richard seems to be arguing that my arguments are based on fear when his entire argument is predicated on a paranoid fear about how a euthanasia law would be misused. Does he really distrust our legislative authorities so much that he thinks they’d leave loopholes allowing anyone to commit suicide if they weren’t in extreme pain, couldn’t do so themselves and didn’t have lots of counseling beforehand?

  • Richard Dean 19th Jan '13 - 2:17pm

    If you actually read what has been written, you will see that I am not objecting to people deciding for themselves. I am objecting to people – would be assistants – deciding for others – the people those assistants aim to kill. Sure, the would-be assistants like to convince themselves they have just cause, but that is their decision, not the decision of the person in pain. At best the assistants are deciding to relieve themselves of the pain of seeing someone else in what appears to be a bad way, and to do that by killing that person. At worst, well, you can guess.

    As Matthew has pointed out, modern drugs can numb most physical pain. Dignity is a complex in which a person assesses themselves through what hey think others expect of them, so it is important to disagree with frail people who feel they have lost dignity and so cannot go on. Assistants expressing keenness to kill are, of course, removing the emotional support that many frail people need. That removal is not in any way compassionate. Instead, it can be part of the method by which the would-be killers achieve their aim.

  • John Lubbock 19th Jan '13 - 5:09pm

    Richard, your position is highly confused. You’re not against people deciding for themselves that they want to die, except when they’re so incapacitated they cannot physically do it themselves, except by starving themselves to death.

    I submit therefore that your stance is morally bankrupt and no better than torturing disabled people, a charge which you have consistently refused to answer.

    I think most people here can see that you are demonstrably wrong, misguided and blind to the demands of the severely disabled, who you continue to patronise by trying to claim that they somehow don’t really want to die even when they say they do.

    I think we’d better leave this conversation here. No doubt you will reply with some other confused point, continue to refuse to answer the questions that have been put to you, and prove once more the hollowness of your arguments. I hope you have a lovely weekend.

  • Richard Dean 19th Jan '13 - 5:32pm

    Liberalism is not the same as doing whatever you want, John. Nor is it the same as refusing to disagree on the basis that someone has a right to a feeling. Avebury isn’t incapacitated. he can starve himself to death right now if he wants to. If he can’t bring himself to do that, then he has made a very clear choice to live. I like his choice. He’s pretty good at inventing interesting impossible situations to discuss about! Aristotle and Russell beware, Avebury is here! :-)

  • Richard

    “If you actually read what has been written, you will see that I am not objecting to people deciding for themselves. I am objecting to people – would be assistants – deciding for others – the people those assistants aim to kill.”

    How could you have so completely misunderstood what is being discussed?

    The discussion is about assisting people who are capable of making a decision that they wish their lives to be ended, but who are not physically capable of ending their lives themselves.

    The decision would be taken by the person concerned, not by those assisting them. What are you finding difficult to understand about that?

  • Richard Dean 20th Jan '13 - 1:00am

    The decision is actually taken by the assistant, who decides to assist. It is likely to be prejudice or inexperience that prevents people from seeing that. Any parent knows that little boys and little girls get up to all sorts of tricks to get around rules and have their own way. That looks more or less like what the supporters of assisted dying are doing in this discussion.

    The least moral person in the discussion is perhaps Avebury himself, who sees he will have a personal problem in the future and is asking us all to change the rules so that he can solve it in the way he wants. Well, maybe that’s just the format he’s used to give the discussion spice, but it’s also exactly what corrupt politicians in 3rd world countries do to get what they want!

    A problem with Avebury’s method of presentation is that it leads away from the real question, which is about rules to be made for everyone to follow, and everyone includes a huge variety of people with a huge variety of conscious and unconscious needs and dependencies and motivations. It’s not about the “torture” that some of the supporters want to use to further their case. As has been pointed out, physical pain can be largely controlled by drugs, and killing people is no way to address mental or emotional pain.

    About 2500 people die in the UK every day. Averbury wants us to set up a National Death Service just for his benefit! Here is some interesting information about the Liverpool Pathway:

    “While initial reception was positive, it has been heavily criticised in the media in 2009 and 2012 and presented as way to prematurely kill senior citizens who cost the NHS too much money. … n 2012, it was revealed that just over half of the total of NHS trusts have received or are due to receive financial rewards to hit targets associated with the use of the care pathway.”

    So no, it is not me who has misunderstood. This discussion is rather more complicated than the supporters of assisted dying seem to want people to think. The issues involved also have a long history and it is perhaps somewhat naughty of Avebury not to have mentioned it

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liverpool_Care_Pathway_for_the_Dying_Patient
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assisted_suicide
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1394038/Diane-Pretty-dies-in-the-way-she-always-feared.html#

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 20th Jan '13 - 8:25am

    As a Buddhist, I too share Lord Averbury’s dilemma regarding the whole issue of assisted dying, but sadly I have also seen, and I am aware of people who due to their medical condition have lost all dignity, and are suffering in the extreme, just waiting to die, and have not benefit from some of the amazing palative care that exists these days.

    Yes, one could say, that even in such suffering there is much to learn, but because of medical and welfare improvements these days, we seem to have the ability to increase the length of time, and thus the suffering before death. Is this not plain cruel and inhuman?

    As for attacking Lord Averbury personally for being brave enough to share in the knowledge of his personal situation, this is stooping to the lowest levels in order to boost ones own ego. I for one thank Lord Averbury for sharing this information, for the concerns are very real to him, as well as countless others, and he has rightly in my opinion used his. Influential position to speak up for those who are unheard, the people suffering.

    As death is a certainty in life, why as a society do we not invest the appropriate amount of education, time, finances and other resources in making the end of our physical existence as ‘pleasant’ as possible, for if we feared death less, then we would perhaps cherish and enjoy life even more?

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 20th Jan '13 - 8:34am

    I seriously apologise for the misspelling of Lord Avebury’s name, changing it to Averbury, I have no excuse, as I used to live near Avebury, have actually reversed a police Range Rover into one of the stones, by mistake as I did not see it (thankfully no damage to the stone, but this could not be said about the vehicle), plus I even recorrected the spell checker. What would Freud have to say all about this?

  • Richard Dean 20th Jan '13 - 10:25am

    Freud would diagnose confusion, possibly age-related. I have the same problems!

    It seems to me that there are several major differences between making rules tailored for one person – Uduwerage-Perera – and making rules for a population. One is that, as experience shows, if a population is given a method, then parts of the population will misuse it. America has much more gun crime than the UK simply because the population there has access to the gun method of addressing problems. Freedom sometimes comes from the inability to do something – such as the inability to kill and the consequent development of skills of verbal expression.

    I too seriously apologise. I have somehow mis-spelt Avebury as Buddha. But then, both had/have a sense of humour, and would perhaps be amused. :-)

  • “The decision is actually taken by the assistant, who decides to assist.”

    I see what you mean about having problems with confusion.

  • I dont feel I know enough to comment on the issue itself but can I just ask other commentors to cool it ? Theres some very inflammatory language being thrown about on here & its not helpful.

  • Richard Dean 21st Jan '13 - 10:02am

    I do not believe we should seek excuses to avoid personal responsibility for a deadly action. The excuse that “someone else told me [or wanted me] to do it” is not one that I recognize, and indeed not one that the UK law does either. As may be seen from the Falconer Commission, and for example the case of Diane Pretty.

  • “Hi Chris, Have a read of the link I provided, and you’ll discover that the Falconer commission proposals would not have helped Tony Nicklinson to die.”

    Well, you’re the only person who raised the case of Tony Nicklinson on this thread. It wasn’t under discussion before you posted your comment.

    But in any case I don’t understand why you think the proposals of the Falconer Commission wouldn’t have applied to his case. The article says that Tony Nicklinson could type into a computer. I can’t see any suggestion that he wouldn’t be aware of the consequences of his actions. It might help if you could explain where you think the difficulty would lie in his case.

  • Richard Dean 21st Jan '13 - 11:57am

    I am also arguing that a population has a right to be protected from the misuse of technologies or permissions, and that sometimes the danger is sufficiently great that the population’s rights trump the individual’s.

    I am also arguing that loss of dignity is not an adequate reason for ending someone else’s life. Many homeless people have little dignity, as do many mentally ill patients – and it can be permanent. What would we do about them?

  • Richard Dean 21st Jan '13 - 12:03pm

    I am also arguing that a statement that “I want to die” can mean something quite different to what it says. It can mean that “I desperately wish that my surroundings were more supportive”. Imposing death is a bad way of responding.

    I am also arguing that the anguish felt by a person, as a result of their potentially incorrect perception of another person’s suffering, is not an adequate reason to allow that other person’s life to be terminated.

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