The Guardian reported on 2 August 2011 that there is support for a change in the law regarding assisted dying. According to the report, aptly entitled “Assisted dying poll shows support for change in law“,
Three in four people said terminally ill adults who want to die should be able to ask their doctor for help, while only one in three said physically disabled adults who were not terminally ill should have the same right. [my italics]
Of course, this is old news. Polls in Britain have been almost uniformly in favour of assisted dying for the last ten or fifteen years. But, just see what Christians have wrought! Isn’t this good news, then? No, it’s not. It means that anyone who is paralysed or has locked-in syndrome — like ”Martin“, whom it would be cruelty to force to stay alive – anyone who is suffering from a degenerative disease which leaves them incapable of caring for themselves and in misery, anyone except those who are going to die — when? how long qualifies as terminal? — must put up with the pain, indignity, or what may be, to them, the sheer unrelieved boredom of being alive and in whatever condition it is that leads them to want to die, without any option.
[Thanks to Haggis for the following correction (and further below). Shows how anger can switch off your careful reading monitor. Note that it is still a disturbingly large majority who think we should make choices for others a critical points in their lives.]
Three Two out of three four people are prepared to say that they are qualified to rule about other people’s decisions about the value of their lives. Three Two out of three four are that confident!
This is important. It means that people like Sir Edward Downes, who went with his wife to Switzerland, where they both were assisted to die, would have been forced to go on living, even though, without his wife, who was terminally ill, he would have been left alone, without his life partner, in an increasingly silent, dark world, because of increasing deafness and blindness. It means that people like Daniel James, a young rugby player, who was completely paralysed and in pain, would have had to go on living, perhaps to live the full span of his life, possibly fifty years more, because he was not dying, instead of being allowed to die, as he chose to do (also at Dignitas). It might well mean that my wife Elizabeth would have been forced to live for several years in torture, paralysed, enduring constant spastic pain, unable to speak or to feed herself, until someone else decided that her condition was “terminal”.
It means that Christians, who’ve spent the last thirty years raising the anxiety level of the disabled and mentally challenged to explosive levels, have managed to force their will on the suffering, to satisfy their lust to force their will at least on some.
Christians who are anti-choice-in-dying have been complaining for some time now that it’s not just about pain. In fact, they point out that of those in Oregon who choose assisted suicide very few are in intense pain. It is, they say, because of loss of independence, loss of dignity, loss of control that people choose to end their lives, not just because the pain is unrelenting and uncontrollable. And that is true. Choice in dying is not just about pain. It is about choice. It is to provide choice for people who do not want to go on living with the kinds of disabilities and distresses that make their lives no longer worth living — for them, not for others. It’s about individual life choices. And they are choosing only for themselves, not for others. It is about their sense of the worth and value of their own lives, not about the lives of others. And Christians don’t want people to have that choice. They are determined, along with many of their Muslim and Jewish partners in crime, to make their will felt somewhere and by someone. Let it not be said that their influence does not stretch to some suffering person. They are still a vital force in society. Indeed, they say, they should be given a greater part to play in decisions regarding social policy, for religion is, after all, as the fatuous Karen Armstrong keeps repeating like a dripping faucet, about love and compassion, and about compassion and care for the sick and the dying especially. And they want someone left to have compassion on.
Well, they needn’t worry. The numbers of people who will choose to die will likely remain small. Switzerland has had legalised assisted suicide for seventy years (since 1941), and there’s no rush to the exit. As Aquinas said — and said so firmly that Roman Catholics still think the point is engraved in nature — “everything naturally loves itself, the result being that everything naturally keeps itself in being, and resists corruptions so far as it can” (Summa Theologia
II-II, Q. 64, Art. 5). And, true to that nature, most people struggle to keep alive. But suicide is, by and large, a uniquely human act. The will to die (der Todestrieb, as Freud called it), while it is often the outcome of episodic despair, can also be a uniquely personal and liberating act. And to prevent someone from receiving help to die, someone who has, on the basis of reasonable considerations, chosen to die, and has asked for help to do so, and finds this act more consistent with the life that they have lived, is, as Ronald Dworkin so eloquently says, an act of tyranny. And to presume to choose for another person, like Sir Edward Downes, or Daniel James, or, indeed, my Elizabeth, is an act of such arrogant inhumanity that it is hard to find a word to describe such treachery to the good.
Three Two out of every three four residents of the UK, if the poll is a reliable indication of public opinion on these matters, are quite prepared to force people who would choose to die, because their circumstances so conflict with their ideal of what makes life worth living, for them, to go on living, notwithstanding.
This is what Christians have done, and they will no doubt feel justly proud of their accomplishments. Christians have managed to twist and distort what people are asking for in such a way as to convince themselves and others that choice in dying is about killing the unwanted, and those whose lives are not worth living. Just like the Nazis and their T4 programme, and their idea of lebensunwürdig Leben (life unworthy of life). But it’s not true. It’s a calumny repeated again and again and again. It doesn’t matter how many times you repeat that this is a lie, they will still tell you, as Tom Wright did when he was bishop of Durham, that assisted dying is a murky moral world. This is what he says of his Easter sermon for 2008:
I said that there was a “militantly atheist and secularist lobby” that believes that “we have the right to kill… surplus old people”.
David Aaronovicth, in his London Times column, said that this was not true — “Who wants to kill the elderly?“, he asked – and the article linked just above is Wright’s response. Let’s try a radical alternative, he said: palliative care.
But no one is questioning the role or the value of palliative care at the end of life. No one. Palliative care is important, and no one is questioning its importance, but it simply is not an answer to those who choose not to go through the disintegrative process of living in misery, whether suffering from often completely intolerable degenerative conditions – intolerable, that is, to the person who is suffering — or dying in indescribable pain and squalor. And it is people like Tom Wright, and his pathetically juvenile evangelical Christianity — he spent three volumes — three of them, mark you! — trying to convince himself and others that there is a genuine historical case to be made for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead — who thinks that people should be forced to live, and that others should get to choose for them in what may be the most important decision in their lives!
When will Christians learn that you cannot assume that multiply redacted Christian documents are historically reliable? That there are no eye witnesses to the resurrection? And even if someone claimed to be, that their testimony itself would be unreliable? That while you might, at a hazard, build a case for the existence of someone named Jesus, or Yeshua, a rabbi who went about proclaiming the kingdom of God, you cannot build a case for supernatural events on a lack of evidence? But, I stress, it is people like this who think they have a right to choose for others how and when they will die. Christians did this. They made people afraid of the choices that people might make. And Christians should damn well be ashamed! But they won’t be, because they actually believe that they know what God wants — something they could not know, even if, by a strange chance, confounding all the lack of evidence, the being in question actually “existed” (if anyone can decide which one it is) — and they believe, for reasons past understanding, that we should do whatever it is that this imaginary being is thought to desire. It is people who believe such things who think they have a right to choose for others! The mind simply weeps! But the emotion is one of anger!