Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Assisted dying: who's to decide when a life is not worth living?

...is the title of a disgusting article Andrew Brown has written on CIF Belief. Jumping off from a recent BHA poll on assisted dying, he poisons the well by comparing choice in dying legislation to abortion legislation. The subtitle says:
Changing interpretations of the Abortion Act show how little legal safeguards are worth when the sentiment behind them is lost
Brown is not really interested in a sober reflection on the ethics of assisted dying. Talking about the poll's support for even those who aren't terminally ill being granted the ability to end their lives, he says:

You may think that this kind of autonomy is unrealistic and that it can lead to a distorting egoism. I certainly do. 

Both I and Andrew Brown have this kind of autonomy, so is this leading to a distorting egoism in us? Perhaps this is a mea culpa from Brown, or a misanthropic confession, but I presume he must mean that the combination of autonomy and Tony Nicklinson's sort of disability is causing the egoism, since we have the autonomy he sought. But why in the world should this freedom be denied to those who find themselves in Tony Nicklinson's position, when surely that freedom with that sort of disability is what is most needed? And talking of Nicklinson, he says:
Just as important was the attitude of his family and those around him. I don't want to suggest for a moment that they were actuated by anything but love and the desire to help him realise the end he wanted for his life. The point, however, is that their decision and their support were very important. Had they opposed his wishes he would hardly have got anywhere.
But I think he does want to suggest something else; he's hinting at ulterior motives behind the Nicklinson family's support for Tony. It's not that they supported Tony's right to decide his own fate, but they somehow, unwittingly, wanted him dead? Despite the fact that all the evidence suggests that they would much rather he live, if only he wasn't suffering so much:

Standing by his side Jane calmly offers her support, albeit somewhat reluctantly as she admits that, despite everything, she doesn’t want to lose him. ‘But I can see how he suffers every day,’ she says, ‘trapped in a body that is little more than a shell.
‘So, however much I would like to have him stay with me, I love him too much to try to change his mind. This is his choice – it’s what he wants.’
And Brown makes the insinuation crystal clear:
Those who stand to benefit from someone's death are very likely, sincerely, to see the life they want to end as hardly worth living. This is a nasty fact about human nature, but any kind of humanism that isn't grounded in human nature is no more than ludicrous and sinister self-deception.
No wonder that the most recent piece of anti-euthanasia propaganda that I was sent highlighted a figure of 300,000 incidents of elder abuse every year. Supporters of assisted dying see this point. But it just makes them believe more firmly that the right kind of legislation, with the clearest possible safeguards, will stop unwanted grannies being liquidated for their asset value.
...and referencing abortion legislation:
If a mother has the right to dispose of an unwanted foetus, why doesn't a daughter have the right to dispose of an unwanted, incoherent and incontinent old person whose miserable life will only ever get worse? What could be easier than to propose to such a creature that its life is not in fact worth living? 
So the Nicklinsons, and anyone who wants their loved ones to determine their own fate, are, underneath it all, swayed by the 'benefit' that will accrue from the death of their loved one. Leaving aside for a moment the breathtaking idea that Tony's family were going to benefit in some way from his death, and that's why they supported him, this 'nasty fact about human nature', if it were so factual, could apply to everyone! Why, then, aren't there queues of old folk throwing themselves off Beachy Head like lemmings because their offspring will benefit from an inheritance? Maybe because Brown's misanthropy has got the better of him, and this 'nasty fact' isn't so true, or is true only in a few misguided individuals.

And because he thinks the practice of abortion has exceeded its brief, does he think that letting people decide their own fate will lead to daughters disposing of unwanted grannies? The sloppy thinking is objectionable, to say the least.

Reading about the Nicklinsons, I've always been struck by their concern for Tony. It was clear that they desperately wanted to keep him, but recognised that he didn't want to stay, and understanding his pain, supported him in his quest. Their humanity shines through; and not a nasty humanity either, but the best kind. I'm sorry that Andrew Brown is blinded to the truth of that by his prejudice against assisted dying.


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