This is the second in an occasional series of posts asking sometimes awkward questions. Some topics are trivial, some serious, and others vital. I’d love for you to join in any ensuing debate using the comments at the foot of the post. Enjoy!
Why Do They Keep Terminal Sufferers Alive?
I’ve been involved with the organisation, Dignity in Dying, for a good few years. Both my wife and I have made Advance Decisions so that medical staff will be well aware of our preferences if we ever become incapacitated and unable to express our wishes at that time.
The sister organisation, Compassion in Dying, is running a campaign to raise awareness of the right to make an Advance Decision to Refuse Treatment (what used to be called a Living Will).
Let me begin by making it clear that whilst I support the aims of these organisations, I neither represent nor speak for them. The comments here are my personal opinions. This post is intended for UK residents, but those from other countries may find it of interest.
Many people are unclear about the arguments surrounding this issue, and a lot of negative misinformation has been spread by frightened people who appear to misunderstand the purpose and intent of such choice. I hope to clarify it here.
In common with many active people, for Valerie and I the idea of being unable to control our lives due to physical or mental incapacity is absolute anathema. We reject the option of being kept artificially alive if that means we’re unable to communicate; for us, such existence would be pointless. The very essence of being human rests in the ability to think and to share those thoughts with others. Without that ability, life for us would be mere existence, and unpleasant existence at that.
There’s a small, but vociferous, body of people who refuse to accept that the campaign to allow Dignity In Dying is about individual choice. They cite many irrelevant and erroneous arguments about the campaign to change the law to allow medical help for the individual at the end of life. One of their most pernicious beliefs is that relatives will be able, surreptitiously, to have disabled family members euthanized. This is untrue; safety measures would prevent such coercion in those few cases where it might pose a threat.
The reality of the objections seems to lie in the concern that somehow people should be required to die a ‘natural’ death. The common argument is that intervention allowing a death is ‘acting like God’. This blatantly ignores the simple fact that, almost without exception, that life has already been artificially prolonged by medical intervention. In other words, ‘acting like God’ has already happened to keep the individual alive. The argument is therefore specious: if we can legitimately prolong life unnaturally, we must also be legally allowed to unnaturally reduce it.
For very many people, having their end of life prolonged artificially once they’re unable to control it would be a form of torture. It’s assumed, though unproven, that those in a ‘vegetative state’ are unaware of their situation and feel no pain. Unproven. Suppose such individuals actually are in pain? In that case, extending their lives is subjecting them to torture; a hell from which they’re unable to escape. And, in many cases, these individuals can be kept artificially surviving for decades. Imagine the horror of such existence.
If a person has led an active life, that individual may prefer not to be dependent on artificial means to keep them in existence once they lose such independence. Again, dependence in these circumstances would be a form of torture.
There are other reasons why individuals should be able to determine their treatment and time of death should they become incapacitated. This isn’t the place to list them all, but consider the simple fact that those with terminal wasting diseases know they will eventually lose the means to communicate their wishes and often want to bring a dignified end to their lives before this happens. It is cruel beyond belief to deny these human beings the dignified and merciful end we routinely permit for their pets.
So, I invite you to join the campaign, to investigate the options open at present, to explore the possibility of making your own Advance Decision, which will spare your relatives, in the unfortunate event that you become incapacitated, the grief of trying to get the courts to allow you a dignified and timely death.
Contact details are included with this post. Don’t wait until it’s too late, like so many have before, only to find the medical authorities take matters into their own well-meaning but frequently erroneous hands. Make an Advance Decision now. Prepare for that unlikely event and provide your loved ones with some comfort, and yourself with the choice of the death you desire.
Our lives, after all, are ours alone. They belong to no one else, certainly not to the State. And if you believe that your god would object to you choosing to end your own life in a dignified way and would rather you suffered untold cruelty, pain and torture instead, may I suggest you ask yourself why you worship and believe in such a cruel, despotic being? Our lives really do belong to us, and we alone should be responsible for the way they end, and allowed to make that choice when circumstances permit.