Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Why helping someone to die is the last great act of love

Committed couple: Richard and Judy
Committed couple: Richard and Judy

As a celebrity couple, it's easy to mock Richard and Judy. Which is why many of us, including myself, have often done so. So many things were ridiculous about their cardiganny, Daily Maily middle-class middle-brow sofa-snug TV double act, an inelegant clash of his insensitive buffoonery and Partridge-esque delusions of cool (the tufty crew-cut did not turn him into the tea-time Hugh Grant, as he evidently dreamt it would), and her mumsy cooing.

But perhaps it takes the man who asked singer Sophie Ellis-Bexter ‘Where did you get your face?’ without fear or shame to say out loud what many of us privately feel about one of the most taboo issues in the Western world.

“If Judy was really ill and in logical mind, and at that point where you just need a little push to go over the edge, I wouldn't give a tuppenny f*** if there was a risk of being prosecuted,” Richard told a newspaper this week. “I'd do what was right for my wife. And I'd take the consequences. That is your job, that is your responsibility as a partner.”

(Let me be clear, in case of confusion — the instinct I refer to many of us sharing is a general one, not Judy-specific.)

This is a pretty bold statement of Richard's. Even the most ardent of right-to-die campaigners don't recommend suicide pacts between husbands and wives.

The proposed Bill of the much loved Scottish politician Margo McDonald, who suffered from Parkinson's and dedicated the latter part of her career to legislating for euthanasia, stipulated that help to die must not come from anyone with a relationship with the sufferer.

Campaigner Tony Nicklinson, whose stroke left him with Locked In Syndrome in 2005, fought with every painful breath he could muster for the right to choose the time and manner of his own death, but his vision, rejected by MPs in August 2012, was for assisting doctors, not family members, to be free from fear of prosecution.

I would guess, however, that many couples, especially those who have watched a close relative slowly reduced to joyless, scared husks of their former selves, have had exactly the conversation Richard and Judy had, and come to the same conclusion.

The grinding demise of my Alzheimer’s-broken granny certainly led to such discussions in my own home, and those of many other family members. In the end, many of us regard assisting a suicide, and defying the law if necessary, to be the last great act of love.

And while campaigners understand that a law to overlook aided suicides between couples would be open to dangerous abuse, it's likely that many have also private agreements with their partners. Which is why so many of us joke about “the end” in the way Margo McDonald did — “a big bottle of champagne and a packet of whatever drugs it is you need and I'll go out to my favourite Dolly Parton tape”.

Joking gets us round dealing with the unthinkable, while still making clear our preference for choosing dignity and power in our own passing. Margo, who died peacefully last month, was a life-hugging free spirit who believed in God, but that didn't allay her fears of a prolonged dispiriting death.

Society will never be able to “fix” death but MPs and the medical establishment (who McDonald said research led her to believe were mostly supportive of her argument — but wouldn't say so publicly) must come up with something better than the current weaselly brushing under the carpet legislation. In this case, we should share Richard Madeley's bullishness.‘Society must come up with something better than brushing it under the carpet’

Stop blurring the lines about rape

Kirsty Wark's documentary, Blurred Lines, was a timely, if sometimes confusedly scattergun (‘geeks’ are not the enemy, nor Britpop) investigation into a creeping misogyny which could damage relationships between the sexes if not nipped in the bud.

From access to fantastical, grotesquely exploitative porn on teenagers' mobile phones to ‘Calm Down and Stab Her’ T-shirts, things are scary out there, and we all have to savvy up. Which is why my heart sank when my 11-year-old daughter told me the DJ played Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines — described by some as an ‘ode to rape’ — at her primary school disco.

Where to start?

Director’s monster lie to leading lady

I'm not an advocate of shoe-horning female role models into every movie, but there are times — usually after, as a film critic, I've had to watch five near-identical examples in a row — when I get very bored and p****d off with the pathetic pointlessness of so many of Hollywood's female characters.

Godzilla's director, Gareth Edwards, lured Elizabeth Olsen on the promise that he would flesh out her ‘place-holder’ role as a wife who drapes herself around her heroic soldier husband while he stares into the distance planning on his next heroic deed.

He failed to keep his promise.

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