The Sky TV documentary this week showing a desperately ill man taking his own life in a Swiss suicide clinic has forced the issue into the public domain in the most dramatic way possible.
It was reality television at its grimmest.
Craig Ewert (below) was 59 and suffering from motor neurone disease which would, as he so eloquently put it, eventually leave him as a living tomb. He would be paralysed and fed nutrients through a tube in his stomach.
Understandably that was an indignity that he did not want to endure and so he decided to enter the clinic and end his life. He was shown drinking a deadly |cocktail of barbiturates and biting down on a switch which set off a timer which turned off his ventilator.
There probably are many people |suffering from debilitating, terminal conditions who feel as he did. Many of us have watched loved ones die of diseases which left them with precious little dignity in their final days or hours. Many of us have probably prayed that they would be released from their suffering.
But how many of us would actively help our loved ones die, especially at a time when they were still conscious and able to take the final step themselves?
The programme showed Mr Ewert being comforted by his wife Mary in his final moments. They even |exchanged a final kiss and said their final goodbyes. It is certainly not for me to say that what they did was wrong, even if I don’t agree with the concept of assisted |suicide.
I find myself in agreement with Prime Minister Gordon Brown on the issue. He told the Commons this week that assisted suicide is a matter of conscience for the |individual.
He added: “I believe that it is necessary to ensure that there is a never a case in this country where a sick or elderly person feels under pressure to agree to an assisted death or somehow feels it is the expected thing to do. That is why I have always opposed legislation for assisted deaths.”
Sometimes when we think of assisted suicides we imagine the nightmarish |scenario of pushy relatives hastening a person toward eternity to get their hands on their inheritance. It could happen, but as the Prime Minister pointed out, making assisted suicides legal would create a climate where such events would no longer be regarded as exceptional and could even become “the expected thing to do”.
Remember that when the Abortion Act was introduced it was for well-defined |exceptional cases, but over the years has |become so debased that terminations are now often contraception for the forgetful.
A shocking recent example of assisted suicide was that of Daniel James, the 23-year-old who had been paralysed in a rugby accident, and who could no longer face life. The Director of Public Prosecutions has decided not to level charges against Daniel’s parents who accompanied him on his death trip to Switzerland.
Legalising assisted suicides could mean more young people — not terminally ill although desperately restricted — opting to end their lives.
I can understand why the terminally ill may wish to die before dying becomes too awful. I can also accept that perfectly legal doses of morphine administered to cancer patients, for example, may cumulatively cause death.
And yet I can never accept that assisted suicide is right, at least morally. From ever I can remember, I have learned that nothing is more sacred — and not just in the religious sense — than life. I regard life as a precious gift. That is a belief which has seeped into every fibre of my body.
If we cannot accept the utter sanctity of life and be horrified and saddened at its ending, then there truly are no barriers left to prevent a descent towards inhumanity.