Andrew Barclay, a 65-year-old British man, died earlier this week. But not any form of death because Andrew, who had multiple sclerosis, chose to end his own life at the Dignitas assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland.
He was accompanied to the clinic by his wife and reporters from the Daily Mirror, a British newspaper which has published a detailed story about Andrew’s condition and his decision to end his own life. You can read the Mirror story here.
Whatever you may think of Andrew’s story and decision, I am not going to enter that discussion but, instead, l want to look at the whole assisted suicide issue.
There are two main types of argument used to support the practices of euthanasia and assisted suicide. They are the ethical and pragmatic arguments.
The first is that people should have freedom of choice, including the right to control their own body and life (as long as they do not abuse any other person’s rights), and that the state should not create laws that prevent people being able to choose when and how they die.
The cases … both for and against
Meanwhile, the pragmatic argument is that euthanasia, particularly passive euthanasia, is allegedly already a widespread practice, just not one that people are willing to admit to, so it is better to regulate euthanasia properly.
On the other side of the fence there are four main types of argument used by people who are against euthanasia and assisted suicide. They are known as the religious, the ´slippery slope’, medical ethics, and alternative arguments.
These can be briefly summarised as:
Religious – that these practices can never be justified; for example, many people who believe in God say no-one has the right to end a human life;
‘Slippery slope’ – this is based on the concern that legalising euthanasia could lead to significant unintended changes in our healthcare system and society at large that we would later come to regret;
Medical ethics – that asking doctors, nurses or any other healthcare professional to carry out euthanasia or assist in a suicide would be a violation of fundamental medical ethics and, for doctors, the Hippocratic oath;
Alternative – that there is no reason for a person to choose to die because they don’t have to suffer either mentally or physically as effective end of life treatments are available. Because of this, euthanasia is not a valid treatment option, but represents a failure on the part of the doctor involved in a person’s care.
My view may not be yours
Where do I stand? You may well ask!
Well, my religion’s tenet is ‘if it harms none, do as you will’ and so my beliefs don’t tend to fit in with mainstream faiths. That being the case, I cannot accept the religious argument. Choosing to end your own life with your family’s understanding, is not hurting anyone else.
Switzerland has amply demonstrated that the ‘slippery slope’ is not inevitable. They have ample checks, medical and otherwise.
Asking medical professionals to get involved would not be as awkward as may be imagined. There are plenty now that would like to help people with unendurable and never-ending pain to close their lives with dignity. Anyway, it would only be voluntarily not compulsory.
Now, far be it from me to cast doubts on the ‘alternative’ argument but the so-called ‘end of life’ treatments are purely palliative in nature. They relieve some symptoms to reduce pain etc but do little, if anything, for quality of life.
Now, at present, at just a year younger than Andrew, nothing could be further from my mind. Despite having lived with MS for 16½ years, live is good, and is for living. I can’t imagine ever making the same decision that Andrew Barclay made but I think we should all have the legal right to make it.
What do you think? Do you agree? I’d like to know.
50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, who is Managing Editor (columns division) of BioNews Services. BioNews is owner of 50 disease/disorder-specific news and information websites – including MS News Today. Ian has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.