My Life, My Choice   Leave a comment


 

Sir Michael Caine

 

Supporters of voluntary euthanasia will have been pleased yesterday as the news broke that Sir Michael Caine, one of the most highly respected British actors, revealed he agrees that euthanasia is sometimes the kindest thing.  Of course, this will cause a stir as the controversial subject of ‘mercy killing’ raises its head once again.

In an interview, Sir Michael told the story of his father’s death in 1955: how he was suffering from liver cancer which was causing him great pain and how Michael just wished that he could help end his father’s torment.  The actor even spoke of the suggestion he made to the doctor looking after his father:

I was in such anguish over the pain he was in, that I said to this doctor: ‘Isn’t there anything else you could do, just give him an overdose and end this?’, because I wanted him to go and he said, ‘Oh no, no, no, we couldn’t do that.’ Then, as I was leaving, he said ‘Come back at midnight.’ I came back at midnight and my father died at five past 12. So he’d done it…

Sir Michael went on to say that he agreed with voluntary euthanasia “if you’re in a state to where life is no longer bearable”.

Now, personally, I believe that when a person is terminally ill and feels that their life has reached a point where they are unable to cope – mentally and physically – and they have considered all their options (e.g. more medical or care assistance), then they shouldn’t be prevented from ending their life.  However, I do understand why it is such a controversial topic.  The specific circumstances can vary greatly and should be taken into account, as well as the effect on the person’s family.

The ‘usual’ disagreements which occur surround religion: in particular, God’s omnipotence v. human compassion.  The argument that God gave us the gift of life implies that life is sacred and so is only to be given and taken away by God; it is not our place to choose when we die.  Whereas the compassion argument runs along the lines that, as a religious or moral person, you care about other people’s welfare and so would feel that it is your moral duty to help someone who is facing great pain or suffering.  If you consider the word ‘mercy’, you immediately think of salvation; so ‘mercy killing’ (aka. euthanasia) shouldn’t be inconceivable by religious believers.  Many people believe that they have a right to be able to die with dignity: “my life, my choice” is a common motto for pro-euthanasia campaigners.

People can be prosecuted for assisted suicide under the 1961 Suicide Act, but, earlier this year, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, made it clear that people who were proved to be acting out of compassion would be unlikely to face prosecution.  If this law were to be removed, some people would argue it would open the door for greedy and uncaring relatives to ‘bump off’ the elderly so they could inherit the family fortune more quickly.  This would be a ridiculous thing to say as, if the act were removed, there would be more open conversation about death.  Also, paving the way for more discussion about individual cases, and so preparing all family members for the event, is surely the most important thing?

Two people who didn’t consider the impact of their wish to end their lives on their families were the couple found dead in a fume-filled car in Braintree in September.  Police discovered Joanne Lee and Steve Lumb had met online and created a suicide pact.  Talking to journalists following the public release of the news, Lee’s family, friends and neighbours admitted that she had had treatment for an eating disorder, but still weren’t aware of how low she was obviously still feeling.  Lumb’s father, who lived with his son, claimed he had never shown any signs of being depressed.  I think a tragedy like this seems all the worse when the people involved did have friends and family members they could have talked to about how they felt, but simply chose not to.  Although, even when you feel you have no-one you can talk to about your problems, there are organisations which exist for people in those situations (e.g. the Samaritans).

I wouldn’t want to say that I am ‘in favour’ of suicide because I think you would be giving up.  There are many cases of people who are saved following suicide attempts who then go on to speak of how they weren’t thinking straight at the time and how grateful they are to have been rescued from death.  However, voluntary euthanasia is different because it applies to people who are terminally ill (or possibly very old and cannot look after themselves any more) and whose quality of life would only get better if a miracle occurred.  Also, if the law was changed to permit assisted suicide (but including some requirement such as a living will drawn up by a lawyer to prove the person who is ill has agreed to it), the decision to end your life would be one that could be discussed with your family, which would help everyone to ensure that you are making the right decision.  Living wills currently allow a person in the UK to request that doctors do not try to resuscitate them (known as a DNR) and doctors are allowed to give a person medication which might kill them, as long as their primary reason for doing so was to stop the patient from being in pain; so why can’t a person and their doctor agree to end the person’s life when the patient wants it to happen, rather than having to wait until when their illness escalates further?

Those who are anti-euthanasia will probably be thinking that I haven’t given much consideration of their side of this argument, but I believe that this is very much a personal decision and, whilst friends and family members should be made aware of the person’s feelings, no-one should be forced to live a life they resent.

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Posted 10/10/2010 by thinkmindy in ethics, Morality

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