I really didn’t want to bang on about the misconceived Assisted Dying Bill for the Terminally Ill which MPs are due to debate this week. But the idea that there is to be no hiding place from the State – even in death – proved too much for me.
Be in no doubt that State sanctioned killing – for this is what it is – and a new legal framework for doctors designed to dispatch us off this mortal coil will change our culture irrevocably and for the worse.
For centuries, since Moses descended from Mount Sinai, we have been commanded not to kill. The Sixth is an awesome commandment, rightly inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration and fear. It is the basis of our respect for the sanctity of human life. Yet extraordinarily now it seems that a substantial proportion of the population no longer understands its significance. Opinion polls tell us that the majority are clearly in favour of supporting a law that will intentionally break this most fundamental of human taboos.
The only comfort I can draw on is that doctors – who would be expected to do the ‘assisting’ – don’t share this view. This is of great significance. Despite all the pressure, two thirds of them are still against this legislation and only one fifth say they would be personally prepared to ‘help’ a patient die. Those so often accused of acting God when the chips are down know that it is not their job to do this. And who knows better than they do what it really would mean?
Unlike the general public or bleeding heart commentators, they do not labour under the illusion that giving a lethal injection is either ‘helping’ someone die or is dignified. It is killing pure and simple. Lobbyists and commentators of course pretend otherwise. When plain speaking is needed they speak in a language of euphemism and deceit. Dignity in Dying, the euthanasia lobby, is guilty as charged – starting with its name. Stealing the language of compassion, disguising truth with sentiment, has proved a remarkably effective ploy.
But it needs to be laid bare. Sanctioning of killing – even in restricted circumstances – severs doctors from the constraints of their Hippocratic Oath. This requires of them the “utmost respect for human life from its beginning”.
How can he or she show this while being an instrument of death at one and the same time? The truth is they can’t.
Doctors are exhorted to tread with care in matters of life and death. Yet exactly what this Bill demands is the opposite. It sets doctors up as Solomons to decree their patients’ remaining life spans. But whereas it is one thing to tell someone that they are terminally ill, it is another to assert they have less than six months to live. Why six months anyway? Why not three months? Why not a year? Each is as arbitrary and stupid as the other, not just because of the advances of modern medicine but because of the nature of the human spirit which defies science.
I know. I have been there. My late husband was given at least two deadlines before his doctors gave up on predicting his imminent demise. In the August he was told to get his affairs in order because he’d be dead by Christmas. After Christmas came and went he was told he had till May. In the event he died the following September. These false prophecies were shocking, overwhelming and unhelpful. How much better would it have been to be told he probably had another year or so and maybe more?
Yet the Bill up for discussion is premised on just this – on the false scientific notion that the life of a ‘terminal’ patent can be accurately judged.
I hope at least some MPs will have the gumption to question the real reasons for the Bill: to ask whether it is more to do with control than with compassion?
I hope they will see that it is a sad refection of the selfishness of the ‘me generation’ and its descendants, who cannot bear the thought of sickness and death, who are more fearful than any previous generation of being old and alone and who, having dispatched their own parents into inadequate and soulless old people’s homes, now fear for themselves. What goes around comes around.
I hope some will point out that this is but a desperate and futile attempt to control our destinies.
I pray finally that some will tell it how it will be: that sanitising and speeding up death won’t dispatch loneliness, suffering and despair but that to the contrary it will make our society a lonelier, colder and more fearful place as we get older.