Blogs Coffee House

How should we describe ‘assisted dying’?

7 July 2014

3:40 PM

7 July 2014

3:40 PM

There is, I realise, no perfect, neutral way of describing ‘assisted dying’, the substance of Lord Falconer’s bill which comes up for its second reading on 18th July. ‘Right to die’ is a bit tricky; dying is one of those rights that are thrust upon us without our even asking. It’s part of the human condition; just wait long enough, and it’s yours. And as Jenny McCartney eloquently makes clear in her piece on the subject, it’s actually assisted suicide — the assistance being provided by a doctor – or if you prefer, killing by request. As for the safeguards in the bill about it being limited to those with no more than six months to live and with the informed consent of the would-be suicide, I put precisely as much store by them as I do by all the provisions in the Abortion Act providing for the most serious cases only and with the written consent of two doctors… and we know how that turned out.

But how we name the thing matters. I was staggered the other week to hear the BBC, on its much-admired PM programme, using the formula of ‘campaigners for the right to die with dignity’ in the bulletin and news report on the Supreme Court ruling on Paul Lamb and Jane Nicklinson (acting for her late husband Tony) and a third man, called Martin. The tone of the report was supportive of their case, but it was the way the implicit bias was manifest in the ‘dying with dignity’ bit that got me.

So, let’s aim for a form of words from broadcasters which isn’t patently one-sided. ‘Right to die’ and ‘assisted suicide’ may not quite capture the essence of the thing, but they’re probably the best we can do.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


Show comments
  • George Smiley

    More medieval, pre-medieval and pagan Roman Catholic dogma. I mean, why artificially keep the body of an otherwise-clinically-dead and invariable person alive—which is what it really is, by the detractors of voluntary, active euthanasia—by means of expensive machines that have to be serviced daily, nay hourly, thereby forcing the person to live beyond his natural life, like what happened to the body of the now late Ariel Sharon of Israel in his last years, when life is no longer worth living?! What is the point, exactly?! What is it all for?!

    And on abortion, the Roman Catholic Church has surely proved “herself” to be such a great custodian of children upon these Isles and beyond the Seas, right—and I am King Henry VIII! That is, if you don’t have to suffer to live in a certain district of the County of Galway in Connaught, in Ireland, called Connemara! And do let us know when the Irish Christian Brothers finally re-establish themselves in Canada, right?!

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Anyone know where I can lay my hands on a semtex vest?

    • George Smiley

      Stop being such a Troll for once, Mr. Jack-the-buckteeth-Japp!

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Pulling the plug?

  • Kennybhoy

    Murder…?

  • paulthorgan

    “How should we describe ‘assisted dying’?”

    Homicide.

  • http://dcncrowley.posterous.com dccrowley

    All I see here are opinions, ‘murder’, ‘RAGE (rapid access to granny’s estate)’. How about giving people a choice. I used to live in Ireland in the 1980’s. Back then there was no choice. No choice in divorce, condoms, abortion. Stop interfering. The issue should be about terminally ill people in the last stage of life, in great pain and nothing left in life. Stop interfering. If you don’t want to make use of euthanasia, fine. But leave those who feel they need it as terminally ill patients have a choice.

  • Alexander Lyle

    Can I suggest RAGE killing (rapid access to granny’s estate). I am a doctor who has to deal with a large number of terminally Ill patients and nothing fills we with more horror than the idea that this bill might go through. I would seriously consider leaving the health service

  • bfreesun

    I would like to have the choice of when I go and have no desire to follow the experience of my mother in laws extended agony. A doctor friend tells me it’s common within the profession for private arrangements between friends to take care of things when their time comes. I would prefer not to have to travel and as far as suicide is concerned another friend has joined dignitas, which has removed all suicidal thoughts as he knows he will not have to suffer when the time comes.

    • judyk113

      That’s an example of appallingly managed and wrong NHS care. Such is our level of acceptance of the malignity and incompetence of NHS care, there are huge numbers of people who feel they have to call for doctors to kill them off directly, rather than demanding our medics give us proper care which avoids dehydration and manages pain. Do you seriously imagine that any member of the Royal Family would be allowed to deteriorate into dehydration and extreme pain?

  • swatnan

    … its an act of mercy.

  • The Masked Marvel

    Why so staggered, Melanie? The BBC regularly uses activist terminology on favored issues. It’s part of the style guide.

  • Retired Nurse

    Euphemisms don’t really fit with the concept of ‘informed consent’ do they…Jane Barton who killed over 800 non terminally ill ‘bed blockers” at Gosport War Memorial Hospital just used to write ‘please make comfortable’ before the syringe driver of diamorphine and midazolam went in….and if you snook a peek at the definition of ‘Terminal’ in the peculiar Health Insurance profiteer Joffe’s bill, you’ll find its not actually all it seems…any condition that cant be ‘reversed’ by treatment, but merely treated, is to be counted as ‘terminal’…..why would insurance companies (like the NHS ) want to be able to help people who need money spent on them to top themselves ? Because they ‘care’? Bog off….

  • Retired Nurse
  • andagain

    What’s so objectionable about calling it assisted suicide?

    • Alexsandr

      that assumes the people assisting are free from malice.

      • andagain

        Malicious assistance? An evil plot to help someone?

        • Alexsandr

          a plot to get rid of a nuisance or expensive old person

    • judyk113

      Because suicide is an act which can only be committed by an individual on themselves. A person administering a lethal injection or otherwise killing them is committing murder, whether or not is is by request.

      • andagain

        Reminds me of a story about a soldier who saw someone burning to death on a battlefield, out of anyones reach. So he shot the man.

        A vicious murderer, was he not? He should have let the man die in agony, slowly.

        • Jackthesmilingblack

          Enemy or comrade, either way that`s something of a tough call. Must have happened a lot on the battlefield but no one wants talk about it for obvious reasons. Putting a mortally wounded person out of their misery has to be the correct decision.

          • George Smiley

            And you would know, how?

            • Jackthesmilingblack

              You can rely on me to deliver the coup de grâce, Jock.

  • judyk113

    How about calling it Consensual Murder on Request? Because that’s what it is. Either that or the original title of the Dial M for Murder on Request lobby – the “Voluntary Euthanasia Society”. Because Voluntary Euthanasia is what it is. Right to die and assisted suicide are deliberate euphemisms designed to make the legalisation of asking someone to murder you sound palatable. They are by no means the best we can do. They are the worst we can do.

    • Colonel Mustard

      See below. Murder is strictly defined in law by malice. Without premeditation of malice the unlawful killing of a human being is manslaughter. I think the idea here is to make it lawful though which opens the gates of H*ll.

    • Slim Jim

      I agree with your sentiment Judy. It is euthanasia, but that’s not a word we should associate with ‘murder’ (I also agree with the Colonel). How about State-Sanctioned Killing? That would also apply to abortion and capital punishment. As for the latter, the people were not given a say, and I doubt we shall with euthanasia. Of course, our political class knows best, eh?

      • Alexsandr

        state sponsored killing. we already have that when we leave people to starve and dehydrate while they die. look up the liverpool care pathway. more like liverpool lack of care pathway.

        • judyk113

          Again, almost invariably justified with the greatest and most fatuous self righteousness by its evangelist proponents as an act of mercy, a gift to the victims, enabling them to have a “good” death.

  • fathomwest

    I have had, over many years, the sad experience of being with a well loved pet when we and the vet came to the conclusion that as the pet had no longer any quality of life, it was thought kinder to put him/her down. I was able to say my thanks and goodbyes to them and the deaths were dignified and quick. Why we cannot have a similar procedure for humans is beyond me.

    • Hexhamgeezer

      Maybe because some (admittedly crazy extremists) don’t equate humans with hamsters.

      • fathomwest

        You should be on Radio Four the home of Comedy.

        • Hexhamgeezer

          Maybe I already am……

      • pointlesswasteoftime

        You’re saying quality of life is more important to hamsters than humans?

        • Hexhamgeezer

          No

  • Colonel Mustard

    Since dying is nothing new and medical science has increased survivability to a degree our ancestors could probably not have imagined what, exactly, has given rise to this debate and why?

    • pointlesswasteoftime

      You have answered your own question: “medical science has increased survivability to a degree our ancestors could probably not have imagined”
      Some people don’t want to just “survive” (i.e. carry on existing) while they can’t feed themselves, need someone to wipe their backside or can’t remember their own sons and daughters when they meet face to face.

      • Colonel Mustard

        No. Don’t buy that.

      • Alexsandr

        probably because care is expensive and whoever is paying resents it.

      • Alexsandr

        if you want to top yourself at some point in the future get yourself some poison and lock it away so you can top yourself when you are fed up with life. dont involve anyone else.. simples.

        • pointlesswasteoftime

          Yes. “Simples”… not. If you can’t even feed yourself, or walk, or remember your own children, how on earth are you meant to get up and find that poison and swallow it? Nothing is ever “simples” – except for the people who use that word.

  • Mr Grumpy

    Consensual murder?

    • Colonel Mustard

      Probably consensual manslaughter because there would be no malice aforethought.

      Although objections to the term ‘manslaughter’ will no doubt soon be made and we might to expect to hear a “reconstructed” non-sexist version. Personslaughter doesn’t quite have the same ring – nongenderspecificslaughter maybe?

      • Mr Grumpy

        That’s a large assumption, but I’ll meet you half way with “consensual homicide”. Any better?

        • Colonel Mustard

          Ah, but if there were to be malice aforethought then “consensual” would not apply and it would simply be murder!

          • Mr Grumpy

            Any idea what the legal definition of malice is? It seems to me perfectly possible to do something malicious having gained the victim’s consent.

            • Colonel Mustard

              It is taken to mean an actual intention to do the harm that was done or being reckless as to whether that harm would or wouldn’t happen, e.g. man hiding somewhere in a shrubbery and shotgun fired into it. In the case of inveigling an elderly relative, say, to agree to “assisted dying” if motivated by the desire to inherit their wealth more quickly and evade the cost of their care, malice might be very difficult to prove if they were going to die anyway. But the complexities of that position in law should make politicians even more circumspect about trying to draft a catch-all law. The implications for abuse are enormous.

              There are elements of the old ‘obtaining a pecuniary advantage by a deception’, now superceded by New Labour’s fraud law, but even then the actual elements of deception might be very hard to prove.

  • Ian Walker

    Since the motivation in most of the cases seems to be to avoid the indignity of being a shadow of your former self and a burden on your nearest and dearest, what exactly is the problem with the term ‘dying with dignity’ ?

    • Mark Bailey

      Because it is so tendentious: can you imagine anyone campaigning for ‘dying with indignity’?

      And, without realising it, your comment “a burden on your nearest and dearest”, highlights where those who would like a bit more balance in the reporting think that the pressure on vulnerable individuals will come. Legislation intended for ‘good’ purposes can be utilised just as easily by those with ‘bad’ intentions.

      • Alexsandr

        i know elderly people who would be easily pressured into signing away their lives if a son or daughter told them to. I dont believe any provisions in the law can guard against the vulnerable being bumped off because they are inconvenient, or worse, because they have a sack of assets someone wants to inherit. Its a bad idea and should be chucked out

        • Colonel Mustard

          Yes, it’s surprising how much modern law is badly promulgated on what the politicos would like to happen rather than what could happen. Politicians in the past were more circumspect.

      • Ian Walker

        Well my children have all been well instructed that in the event of my faculties departing to the point where I am no longer ‘me’ then a terrible accident with the wheelchair during a brisk walk along Beachy Head is not only welcome but also expected.

        I don’t consider this flabby sack of meat to be of any use other than to oxygenate my brain to keep my mind going, and I have no belief in a soul or anything similar, so my mind is me, and the loss of my mind would be exactly equivalent to cessation of existence.

        • Samuel Johnson

          “Your mind is you” – but what is your mind? Ay, there’s the rub …

          • Ian Walker

            A series of electrical discharges in my brain tissue that combine immediate sensory perception with stored memory to produce behaviour that is both broadly consistent and capable of adaptation. An absolute tour-de-force of nature.

            • Samuel Johnson

              And those who are not so lucky as to be a tour-de-force of nature (the old, the unwell, the disabled, the dying) have no inherent right to life. How charming.

        • Guest

          A manifesto for the extermination of the mentally ill and ‘subnormal’. That you are not ashamed is the most shocking part.

          • Ian Walker

            The most shocking part is your poor grasp of logic. My statements were entirely about my own personal choices, not about imposing those choice on others.

            If I did that, I’d be a socialist.

        • Rossspeak

          I,m with you – and more often than not if you dig beneath the surface of the “anti- abortion/assisted dying etc” lobby the arguments against are based on religious beliefs rather than humanitarian principles or behavioural ethics.
          If we could take religion out of these sort of ethical issues we might be able to have a sensible debate – as we all live longer the dilemmas are going to get more and more difficult to resolve as it is – without clouding the issues with dogma.

          • Hexhamgeezer

            ……….which, of course, you aren’t?

            • Rossspeak

              Sorry – aren’t what – religious or clouding the issue?
              My point is simply that the issues should be considered “without prejudice”.

              • Hexhamgeezer

                .without prejudice…

Close
Can't find your Web ID? Click here