IN A move almost unnoticed on the mainland, politicians in Jersey have voted in principle to legalise both euthanasia and assisted suicide, putting the Crown Dependency of 110,000 people on track to become the first British territory to permit such practices.
The proposition is extreme, offering euthanasia for an ‘incurable physical condition, resulting in unbearable suffering that cannot be alleviated’. This will include disabled people and others with non-terminal conditions, even anorexia.
The word ‘physical’ is the only safeguard here and once it is excised, say by a court order obtained to overturn a discriminatory barrier to access, then ‘unbearable suffering’ becomes the unquestionable subjective experience of the patient alone.
In the Low Countries, this natural progression is leading to euthanasia on demand and to the killing of people with autism or mental health problems. They have included alcoholics such as Mark Langedijk and victims of child sex abuse including Aurelia Brouwers.
Nevertheless, Sarah Wootton, chief executive of the Dignity in Dying campaign group and its sister charity Compassion in Dying, triumphantly commended the Jersey proposition.
It was a ‘victory for common sense and compassion’, she gloated, before adding, like Wolfie Smith visualising his revolution, that ‘history will remember those who did the right thing and stood up for dying citizens, as well as those who did not’.
Ah, well, no need to worry that her groups are supposed to be advocating only assisted suicide. DiD can always go back to its old name – the Voluntary Euthanasia Society – if it gets its way and helps to trap England and Wales in a pincer movement involving the Channel Islands and Scotland.
Speaking of the lessons of history, it is worth noting that when the idea of ‘assisted dying’ first gained traction in the 1930s (not a decade renowned for dignity and compassion) it was the preserve of eugenicists.
It was enthusiastically embraced by Nazi Germany which selected patients ‘deemed incurably sick’ and murdered 300,000 of them. Techniques developed by the Aktion T4 programme, such as the use of lethal gas, were later adopted by Operation Reinhard, which turned into the Holocaust.
Understandably, the currency of assisted dying arguments suffered severe deflation after the Second World War, but they are back in the mainstream thanks to a cultural context in which the West is losing the sense of what it means to be free.
Too many people today confuse freedom for licence, choice and anarchy while the creed of absolute autonomy – liberty without reference to any constraints – is elevated above all values, all the while surrendering their responsibilities to a state authority only too eager to take them on. The paradox is that with each new spurious right they obtain, they are less free than they were before.
This is because there is no real freedom without truth – and truth is rejected as an essential condition by all the new and destructive ideologies which now rise up like the children of the Hydra’s teeth to march under the banner of liberty.
Look closely, and it is easy to see that, on the contrary, they attempt to set freedom in opposition to truth and, indeed, to separate them radically. It is a trend which lends itself to totalitarianism and tyranny. It is the hallmark of their iniquity.
The exercise of true freedom is the ability to choose and do what is right and good, but this requires the capacity to discern the real from the illusory.
The problem for the West is that it has been so long cast adrift on the sea of post-Modern relativism that the idea of objective truth, as opposed to ‘my truth’, has practically become a quaint novelty. But it always matters.
So what is the truth about the ‘right to die’? Some of the verifiable facts about euthanasia and assisted suicide include the following: they wreck palliative care; they pressure elderly and disabled people to feel like a burden on society and force them to justify continually why they are alive; they do not guarantee a peaceful demise because they rely on Death Row drugs and lethal cocktails without any evidence base and which often result in shocking complications, and they corrupt medicine.
The ‘choice’ of the few will surely bring misery to the many. This is the freedom of the slave-owner, of the pike over the minnow. No one can escape its effects. It will change society for everybody and not only for those who choose it for themselves.
Besides the patients, the next to feel the impact will be doctors. None signed up to kill but undoubtedly there will be some who obtain moral purpose, even pleasure, from it. ‘The old are a drain on the health service,’ Dr Harold Shipman remarked to Pamela Turner shortly before he murdered her mother, Edith Brady.
Others will be harmed. In countries where assisted death is already legal, doctors are increasingly reporting how they are afflicted by prolonged emotional anguish and nightmares similar to post-traumatic stress disorder after they ended the lives of patients.
One doctor in Belgium wept as ‘he confessed that some nights he wakes up in a sweat, seeing the faces of the very people he has euthanised in front of him’.
It is quite a young phenomenon and has yet to be given a formal name, though some call it ‘survivor syndrome’. But I have an idea: how about ‘Macbeth’s syndrome’?
It would be the perfect description for those who are struggling with their bloodied ‘hangman’s hands’, knowing they will ‘sleep no more’ and wondering how the hell they ended up in such a mess.