What a horror.
Tony Nicklinson last week lost his court case to be allowed to have help in ending his life. He had a stroke in 2005 left him paralysed from the neck down.
So he stopped eating, and died. That’s a nasty way to die. If the court had ruled in his favor, he would have been able to relax, knowing he could have a less nasty way to die at a time of his choosing.
He explained this for the BBC in June.
I have locked-in syndrome and it makes my life a living nightmare.
I cannot speak and I am also paralysed below the neck, which means I need someone to do everything for me.
For example, 90% of itches have to be endured because by the time someone comes to scratch it and I have laboriously explained where it is, the itch has gone. Now I just put up with them.
Or there is the screaming frustration of wanting to make a point but knowing that the only way I can express my opinion, by the board or computer, are useless in normal conversation…
However, all these things are physical and arguably one can learn to live with them. What I find impossible to live with is the knowledge that, unlike you, I have no way out – suicide – when this life gets too much to bear.
The reason for this mess is, apparently, adamant refusal to think.
Many opponents of assisted dying object because they think it is wrong to take your own or another’s life. Recently I asked such people if there was anything I could say to make them change their mind. They both replied there wasn’t.
I even suggested to one some safeguards for his approval or otherwise. He totally ignored the question. Clearly any discussion with them is a complete waste of time.
Much has been said about the part care plays in assisted dying and the argument is essentially that better care and more of it will expunge all thoughts of taking one’s own life.
This was said of me on a prestigious national radio programme back in February. I invited the speaker to visit so that she could tell me to my face what I am missing. So far all she has come up with is a number of excuses not to visit. Draw your own conclusions.
It’s a horror.
Marcus Ranum says
They never manage to explain why it’s wrong for a person to take their own life. It’s “theirs” right? So why not?
Oh, that’s horrible.
I don’t think there is any argument the anti side could make that would change my mind, either. I’ve heard most of their arguments, if not all, and I either don’t agree with their foundational premises, or think you could drive a Mack truck through the logic involved.
Kausik Datta says
Other than religious mumbo-jumbo, is there any real reason to deny a person the right to a voluntary, dignified end-of-life? It was cruel on the court’s part to deny Nicklinson his right to die. Sad.
But if we let one guy take his own life, then EVERYbody will want to do it! SLIPPERY SLOPE!!1!
Because, you know, the only thing stopping people from suiciding left and right all willy nilly is that it’s illegal.
FSM I hate these people.
I don’t know about “real reasons”, but they sure excel at “slippery slope” arguments. My favorite example ever was from a Catholic who basically argued that if terminally ill patients, with no hope of improvement and nothing more to look forward to except a slow, painful death, are given the opportunity to chose assisted suicide in order to escape the pain in the final phase, then it is only a matter of time before it becomes a common practice to kill the patients for convenience (or in order to save money). And then people will start thinking “why not kill some more people while we’re at it?”. And from there it is only a short step to… (You get the idea…)
Jeffery Jay Lowder says
Hi Ophelia — Excellent post. I just linked to it from: http://naturalisticatheism.blogspot.com/2012/08/why-assisted-suicide-should-be-allowed.html
How about we deal with the slippery slope argument when it is actually happening. It doesn’t seem to be that hard, at a time when some think they can parse rape into categories, to define suicide in allowed and not allowed categories. It’s a silly argument that I think dates from the middle ages when life really sucked and churches wanted members rather than bigger graveyards. There is no argument today. And guess what, when we’ve voucherized Medicare and given the Social Security trust fund to Goldman Sachs to squander and bankrupt seniors start piling up on park benches I’ll be the anti’s will find some new way to frame this, death panels, anyone.
Barry Pearson says
In the UK, suicide is legal! (It is assisting suicide that has a penalty of up to 14 years). So the question “whose life is it anyway?” has been answered: “it belongs to the person living it – unless that person is too disabled”.
As far as I know, this is the only case in UK law where it is illegal to help a disabled person achieve something that an able-bodied person could do legally! This is the UK, which is about to host the Paralympics. Needless to say, the main influence is religion – without that we would have enlightened assisted dying laws by now.
It is mind-boggling that the Commission on Assisted Dying said “there was a “strong case” for allowing assisted suicide but only for people who are terminally ill”.
What dreadful logic! “It is OK to escape from 6 months of torture, but you must be forced to live with 20 years of torture!”
In killing himself in this brave and nasty way, he has shown up the futility of those opposed to helping him die. What did they achieve, except his prolonged suffering and a death that we wouldn’t force upon animals?
Bob Jase says
Surely some prominent televangelist will get up in front of the tv cameras and have Jesus heal this poor man.
It would be the Christian thing to do.
Shaker Srinivasan says
Forget the religulous; it’s a no-brainer to demolish their usual arguments against the right to end one’s life.
The difficult question is whether this a natural/inalienable right. What are the qualifications, if any? To whom do I owe a justification or even an explanation? Is there an “age of consent” for suicide?
Take this example of a young woman, a graduate student in a prestigious school in Chennai, India, who took her own life, presumably due to “domestic problems” – Emotional stress led to suicide, say police. Does anyone have the right to judge her rationale known only to her – for committing suicide?
Shaker Srinivasan says
Oops, forgot the link for the Chennai story – http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/article3804505.ece
'Tis Himself says
The opponents of assisted dying don’t care about quality of life. As long as someone’s breathing, they’re happy and they don’t give a damn if the someone is happy or not.
Pro-life, even when it’s not a life at all.
I think some of them hope that the dying will be tortured into a last-minute conversion, and that this will be the salvation of their souls.
I am probably one who thinks. What if they find a cure for the disease? However now, that person is dead? I am certainly sorry for these people’s suffering. I have no right to judge how they feel, only they know that. If life has become unbearable for them. Who am I to say, you must suffer terribly right to the end. So I have some conflicting thoughts. I wanted, just a few more days with my Dad.
However, my Dad died when he was 99 years old. He took all the lines out of him and leads off him. He said, I don’t want you to do this anymore. He didn’t want any code calls either. I really cried, when he said. I’m old, I hurt, your mother is gone, my brothers and sisters are all gone. He said, you kids all have each other. So we agreed to his wishes. Today, we all dwell on the wonderful memories of our Mom and Dad, the funny things that happens, in a family of 9 kids. At 99 my Dad made his own decision.
When I was in high school, I took a social studies class where we debated about assisted suicide (incidentally, we happened to live in the first state to pass a death with dignity act). The people who opposed it said crap like “We can’t allow assisted suicide, because then anyone can just go to a doctor and ask to die!” Like, fucking really? And these were a bunch of 14-to-18-year-olds.
There is no argument against suicide or assisted suicide that doesn’t come down to religion. Find me an atheist who thinks Tony Nicklinson should not have been allowed to die as he wished and I’ll adjust my opinion.
Olivia: You are right in that starvation is a dreadful way to die. However, the story says that he contracted pneumonia which is a much easier death. Doctors call it “the old man’s friend.” I hope that was the case because this poor man suffered terribly in life.
We helped my grandmother die in the only way available to us, we stopped hydration and feeding. It was fucking awful and I’m still not over it.
Nancy New, Queen of your Regulatory Nightmare says
Hell, we treat our dogs better than that.
Tony •King of the Hellmouth• says
I first heard someone make this point a few years ago. It’s a strong point to make.
I chose to put down one of my cats many years ago. She suffered from near complete kidney failure, so she wasn’t eating or drinking anything. She was still loving and pleasant. Her mood was unaffected. Everything else was though. I opted to put her down because I felt her quality of life would have been iffy, she wouldn’t have survived much longer anyway, and with my schedule, I was uncertain whether or not I’d be able to tend to her in the manner necessary (intravenous feeding periodically through the day-I’m a bartender). It was still a difficult decision to make because I loved Kara so much. In the end I chose what I felt was the merciful decision.
Why *do* we treat our non human companions with greater respect WRT end of life decisions than we do our fellow humans?
I don’t think that’s as big a stretch as you think. We have atheists who are against gay marriage because they’re squicked by gay sex, and atheists against abortion because “OMG BABBYS”, so I don’t think atheists against assisted suicide is going to be hard to find. Not believing in a deity is no guarantee of being able to think calmly and rationally about something.
You’re not wrong that the vast, vast majority of reasons are religious in nature, though, even when stated secularly. Religions based on Judaism are infamous for insisting that people don’t own their own lives, instead granting that right to their god.
Starvation isn’t ‘a nasty way to die’. After a couple of days the body adjusts so that people don’t feel hunger or pain. However, it’s a nasty death to watch and it does require great determination and willingness to let friends and relatives watch and suffer- often more than the person dying- for a long time.
On the other hand, if “We can’t allow assisted suicide, because then anyone can just go to a doctor and ask to die!”, why shouldn’t they? More than one visit over a few days to confirm it’s not a whim and then they can die if they want. It is not our right to impose conditions for life on other people.
WMDKitty (Always growing and learning) says
“And I Must Scream”
Poor dude deserves a good death of his own choosing.
Ms. Daisy Cutter, Vile Human Being says
Christ, that poor man.
I do have one qualm about assisted suicide: that stringent safeguards must be in place to prevent its abuse. I can all too easily imagine greedy heirs conspiring with a greedy physician to dispatch a severely ill but not terminal relative. I can also imagine a right-wing government encouraging suicide among the poor, brown, queer, or disabled with considerably more alacrity than they’d encourage it among the privileged.
Doug McClean says
Can we dispense with the idea that “disallowing” the bad kind of suicide is helping anyone? Please?
There is enough of a stigma already attached to mental illness. I am speaking from experience when I say that intense feelings of guilt and shame for contemplating “breaking the rules” and strickening others with grief are deeply unhelpful thoughts to layer on top of what is already a horrible experience of suicidal ideation.
I just want to put in my two cents that I believe this cultural shaming, which takes many forms (exercise: spend a week listening carefully and see how many joking references to suicide you hear and how many of them are cruel/dehumanizing), is not conducive to achieving the desired outcome of having less suicide.
(Forgive me for not responding to any followups, I’m not interested in the aggravation of debating this point with trolls. I’ll just hope someone will chime in for me if there are too many religious objections or un-empirical claims that fear of posthumous societal approbation is the only thing keeping all/many of us from choosing to end our lives. If you aren’t a troll and see it differently, that’s fine and I don’t hold it against you, I just want to say how it feels from where I was sitting.)
” I can all too easily imagine greedy heirs conspiring with a greedy physician to dispatch a severely ill but not terminal relative.”
There is no evidence of this actually happening in states where the right to die is respected.
“I can also imagine a right-wing government encouraging suicide among the poor, brown, queer, or disabled”
Governments of whatever ideology who wish to kill their citizens are rarely shy about it.
Keith Harwood says
A few years ago there was a television documentary by Tony Robinson entitled “Me and my Mum”. It was about ageing, dementia and society’s treatment of the aged. It followed the fortunes of a few dementia patients, one of whom was Robinson’s own mother. In the early part she appeared reasonably compos mentis, even greeting the cameraman by name, but later she deteriorated until she could no longer recognise Tony. Later still she contracted pneumonia. There’s a short scene of her doctor discussing her case with Tony and finishing with the words, “Or we could do nothing”. They decide to do nothing. The next scene is some hours later with a very emotional Tony talking to camera.
It’s a must see for anyone concerned with the Living Nightmare.