Following the suicide of 104-year-old David Goodall in Switzerland, writer Tom Welsh says the decision was treated by the media as ‘almost the natural thing for a person of such a great age to do’. Welsh, a self-styled ‘free radical’, fears that disdain for the disabled is leading to a culture where death is seen as a logical solution to their problems – that instead of helping them to live, helping them to die is coming to predominate.
As a relative of a person with learning difficulties, Welsh notes the collective ‘shrug’ that greeted a report into the treatment of such people in the health system, which found that in a sizeable proportion of cases their health was adversely affected by failings in care, and that such individuals have significantly shorter life expectancy than the general population.
As a libertarian, Welsh maintains: ‘People should have the right to end their own life, especially if they are in terrible pain and terminally ill’, but adds that ‘there is no reason to celebrate when they do so’.
Unfortunately, experience shows that the ‘right to die’, while sounding like a fine idea, is a terrible reality, and in practice swiftly becomes the first choice rather than the last. Rather than being celebrated, it is greeted with that collective shrug he noted regarding disabled lives being cut short by neglect and negative discrimination.
He himself notes that the ‘slippery slope’ is not a figment of the imagination but a terrifying reality, and there is a good reason why the ‘right to die’ campaign attracts more support from the well and wealthy than from the disabled and poor. While emphasising compassion and dignity for the latter, it plays on the fears of the former, fostering the feeling that ‘if I were like that, I would want to kill myself’. The last thing most sick or elderly people want is the right to kill themselves, but once the line is crossed from true compassion to utilitarianism masquerading as compassion it becomes very hard to get a society to crawl back up the slippery slope.