Friday, August 31, 2018

The case for assisted suicide is inherently flawed.

This article was published by the Economist Magazine on August 28, 2018.

Kevin Yuill is author of the book: Assisted Suicide - The Liberal, Humanist Case Against Legalization.

Professor Kevin Yuill
The case for assisted suicide seems to consist of terrible stories of people dying protracted, painful deaths and prevented by a cruel law from gaining the relief they seek. But this is not always accurate. As the official reports in Oregon and Washington show, pain is not in the top five reasons why people opt for assisted deaths. It is fear that dominates people’s concerns: of loss of autonomy, loss of enjoyment of life’s activities and loss of dignity. I believe these fears are curable, even if the underlying disease that robs people of such functions is not.
Kevin Yuill: Assisted suicide and the false concept of autonomy.
Lord Falconer characterised the existing law as “incoherent and hypocritical”. But that description seems more apposite for many of the arguments for changing the law. There is an Orwellian self-deception in the idea that “assisted dying” is a safe, healthy way of dying compared to “violent” suicide. But the violence inherent in suicide comes not from the method used, but from the extinction of life from a body.

Then there is the unresolvable problem of where to draw the line. The orthodox argument, ably expressed by Lord Falconer, has it that we should draw the line at six months. But this doesn’t add up. If we argue that the relief of suffering is the most important issue, then six months to live is utterly random; people who have more time clearly suffer. As Lord Neuberger, the president of Britain’s Supreme Court between 2012 and 2017, said in relation to Tony Nicklinson, a man with locked-in syndrome who campaigned unsuccessfully for the right to die: “There seems to me to be more justification in assisting people to die if they have the prospect of living many years a life that they regarded as valueless, miserable and often painful, than if they have only a few months to live.”

When should someone be allowed to help someone else to die? The moral essence of the question concerns our attitude towards suicide. Is it okay in some instances, when someone is really suffering? When they have certain horrific diseases? When they are over 70, as a bill proposed by the Dutch government would have it? Or should we approve it whenever someone says they are suffering unbearably?

My case is not against suicide per se. Though most suicides are tragedies, others, such as that of Captain Oates, who sacrificed himself for the good of his comrades on the ill-fated Scott expedition to the South Pole in 1912, are beautiful acts, the epitome of selflessness, duty to one’s fellows and courage.

Our attitude to suicide is necessarily ambivalent. All free, competent adults should be free to make the decision whether or not to live. I disagree with my good friend Peter Saunders when he says “we recognise that personal autonomy is not absolute.” In relation to the decision to commit suicide, it must be (and with assisted suicide, it is not).

Anyone determined enough to do so will likely take their own life, regardless of laws. I am on record as supporting the removal of what I see as the patronising prevention of competent adults getting their hands on deadly drugs. It is the assistance—the complicity of the community in the death of a human being—that is the problem.
Kevin Yuill: Legalizing assisted suicide is dangerous. Just look at Canada.
Kevin Yuill lectures in history at the University of Sunderland, in the UK, and is the author of Assisted Suicide: The Liberal, Humanist Case Against Legalisation

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