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Philosophy no image

Published on March 15th, 2012 | by Taylor Heyman
Image © The news that Tony Nicklinson will see his case come to court earlier this week has once again brought the right-to-die debate back on our screens. The problem with the ruling is that no judge can possibly rule in his favour: we need a change of law.  It is about time we had a serious adult discussion about the right-to-die question. Nicklinson is right: “It's no longer acceptable for 21st Century medicine to be governed by 20th Century attitudes to death" . The government needs to look seriously at whether we can ensure that those who choose to take this course are choosing for themselves, and give them the option to die in the way they choose. Is it possible to learn from the Dignitas  clinic in Switzerland, and to apply the concept in the UK? I am arguing yes. If medical advances have enabled us to prolong life, even a bad quality of life, as human beings we should be able to choose to end our own suffering. We can come a long way from suicide being illegal, and the issue needs to be debated properly in government. Dignitas works on the proviso that those whose medical records are assessed and given the ‘green light’ by an independent doctor and wish to die can do so in a dignified fashion. The person will also need to meet the doctor face-to-face on two occasions for the doctor to ensure the person is of sound judgement. I support this notion, but I think to work in the UK we need to have a greater control over which people will be given assistance to end their life, and the checks that assure the act is the right thing for the person involved. At the moment the only legal option for people with debilitating illnesses who wish to have a modicum of control over their death is by paying for it in Switzerland, and the costs involved are often too much to afford - especially for the long term ill whom may live on disability benefits. The person must also have some mobility (enough to self-administer the oral Barbiturate used). Any relative who assists suicide in the UK runs the risk of prosecution. It seems that in any discussion over bringing a Dignitas-type institution to Britain would have to include questions about how such a place would be run, and who can use it's services. It would have to be carefully controlled and government overseen - absolutely no outsourcing because, after all, it is not a business. Of course there is a perceived  conflict with the Hippocratic oath, as Alison Pearson pointed out in The Telegraph , and we cannot ask all doctors to sign up to ending a life which they have endeavored to save. However, if one can see the extent of a person's mental and physical suffering and that the choice is their own, I cannot see the harm in a doctor, as in Switzerland, prescribing the lethal dose. Therefore he or she will not administer it, and the choice is still left in the hands of the patient. Obviously not all doctors will want to partake in this; but it only takes a small number to help set up a clinic such as Dignitas. However, this does not solve Tony Nicklinson's problem. He is unable to self-administer the dose required to end his life because of his illness - 'locked-in syndrome'. However he has expressed a wish to end his life when the time comes. I am not sure how I feel about this. Asking someone else, whether a relative or doctor to end your life doesn't sit entirely comfortably with me and many others, mainly because of the long term effect on the person you ask to end your life. I think the words 'mercy killing' and euthanasia also conjure up images of horrific atrocities; open debate and discussion about the issue would help to do away with these feelings in the British psyche.  What I do think is that this issue needs to be discussed in a public forum and attention given to the issue in order to find a solution that helps Nicklinson, and others in his situation, as well as protecting those who are unable to speak for themselves. The right to die remains a taboo subject in British society and rightly so; we should never become entirely comfortable with death as a way out of our troubles. However for those whose medical problems have created an extremely low quality of life, an option must be considered which does not make relatives and doctors risk prosecution for an act of compassion.

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The Right to Die – Dignitas UK?

The news that Tony Nicklinson will see his case come to court earlier this week has once again brought the right-to-die debate back on our screens. The problem with the ruling is that no judge can possibly rule in his favour: we need a change of law.  It is about time we had a serious adult discussion about the right-to-die question. Nicklinson is right: “It’s no longer acceptable for 21st Century medicine to be governed by 20th Century attitudes to death” . The government needs to look seriously at whether we can ensure that those who choose to take this course are choosing for themselves, and give them the option to die in the way they choose.

Is it possible to learn from the Dignitas  clinic in Switzerland, and to apply the concept in the UK? I am arguing yes. If medical advances have enabled us to prolong life, even a bad quality of life, as human beings we should be able to choose to end our own suffering. We can come a long way from suicide being illegal, and the issue needs to be debated properly in government.

Dignitas works on the proviso that those whose medical records are assessed and given the ‘green light’ by an independent doctor and wish to die can do so in a dignified fashion. The person will also need to meet the doctor face-to-face on two occasions for the doctor to ensure the person is of sound judgement. I support this notion, but I think to work in the UK we need to have a greater control over which people will be given assistance to end their life, and the checks that assure the act is the right thing for the person involved.

At the moment the only legal option for people with debilitating illnesses who wish to have a modicum of control over their death is by paying for it in Switzerland, and the costs involved are often too much to afford – especially for the long term ill whom may live on disability benefits. The person must also have some mobility (enough to self-administer the oral Barbiturate used). Any relative who assists suicide in the UK runs the risk of prosecution. It seems that in any discussion over bringing a Dignitas-type institution to Britain would have to include questions about how such a place would be run, and who can use it’s services. It would have to be carefully controlled and government overseen – absolutely no outsourcing because, after all, it is not a business.

Of course there is a perceived  conflict with the Hippocratic oath, as Alison Pearson pointed out in The Telegraph , and we cannot ask all doctors to sign up to ending a life which they have endeavored to save. However, if one can see the extent of a person’s mental and physical suffering and that the choice is their own, I cannot see the harm in a doctor, as in Switzerland, prescribing the lethal dose. Therefore he or she will not administer it, and the choice is still left in the hands of the patient. Obviously not all doctors will want to partake in this; but it only takes a small number to help set up a clinic such as Dignitas.

However, this does not solve Tony Nicklinson’s problem. He is unable to self-administer the dose required to end his life because of his illness – ‘locked-in syndrome’. However he has expressed a wish to end his life when the time comes. I am not sure how I feel about this. Asking someone else, whether a relative or doctor to end your life doesn’t sit entirely comfortably with me and many others, mainly because of the long term effect on the person you ask to end your life. I think the words ‘mercy killing’ and euthanasia also conjure up images of horrific atrocities; open debate and discussion about the issue would help to do away with these feelings in the British psyche.  What I do think is that this issue needs to be discussed in a public forum and attention given to the issue in order to find a solution that helps Nicklinson, and others in his situation, as well as protecting those who are unable to speak for themselves.

The right to die remains a taboo subject in British society and rightly so; we should never become entirely comfortable with death as a way out of our troubles. However for those whose medical problems have created an extremely low quality of life, an option must be considered which does not make relatives and doctors risk prosecution for an act of compassion.

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  • anniedemer

    I'd agree with most of what you're saying here. Just to further your argument, I'd say that the Hippocratic Oath supports euthanasia:

    (from Wikipedia)

    "If it is given to me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God."

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