Monday, November 15, 2010

Look beyond the suffering

Alison Davis, the inspired leader of the disability right group - No Less Human in the UK, recently sent a letter that was published in the Herald newspaper in UK.

Davis was responding to Mary Warnock's comments concerning the supposed "safeguards" that would be part of a bill to legalize euthanasia and/or assisted suicide.

Warnock is the same person who suggested in September 2008 that people with dementia may have a 'duty to die'.

Alison Davis wrote:
Mary Warnock makes a fundamental mistake when she suggests that so long as a bill legalising euthanasia/assisted suicide has sufficient “safeguards”, sick and disabled people need not worry that they will be first in the line of candidates for the lethal dose (Why sometimes it’s rational to choose death, Opinion, October 24). There is a more basic problem than relying on “safeguards” which, of course, would be written by the very people who want to legally hasten the end of some people’s lives.

Typical “safeguards” state that the person requesting death must be terminally ill or have an incurable disability; they must be adult, suffering “unbearably and unrelievably” and, crucially,the “choice” must be entirely theirs. All well and good, one might think (that is, if one were not a member of any of those categories).

Let us now consider a person who qualifies under all these “safeguards”.

She has an incurable disability which entails using a wheelchair full time, and her condition is degenerating. It is causing extreme physical pain which the best efforts of many teams of doctors have been unable to alleviate. Her doctors think her life expectancy is very short. An intelligent adult (with a university degree), she says repeatedly, to anyone who will listen, that she wants to die. Feeling unheard by those who could “help” her, she seriously attempts suicide several times, and is saved only by friends. She is furious when she comes around to find herself still in this world.

Legalising euthanasia/assisted suicide would seem to be a boon for a patient like this.

Ten years on, the woman is still disabled, still uses a wheelchair, still has extreme pain. She has moved to a different area where local doctors conclude that since she has lasted 10 years, the prognosis of a very short lifespan must have been wrong. The big change, however, is that she no longer wants to die. She has found that she can use her talents to help others, even more vulnerable than herself, to live and to have better lives than they otherwise would. Fast forward a further 15 years and she is still alive, more determined than ever to live whatever life she has left to the full.

Would the Warnocks of this world agree to add a waiting time – 10 or 20 years – to any bill they draw up, in case of a change of mind? Because human beings are fallible, because life can be good even with great pain, because nobody knows when doctors’ prognoses will be wrong, it is sheer folly to legalise assisted suicide for one group of people because they suffer in certain ways, while spending large amounts of money on “suicide prevention programmes” to prevent the suicides of others who suffer in a different way.

You will have guessed, I’m sure, that I am the woman who wanted to die for 10 years, is still alive today, and who still wants to live. If I had died 25 years ago, I would have missed the best years of my life. Mary Warnock’s mistake is that she seems unable to look past the suffering to see the person, a sad afflication indeed.

Alison Davis - Dorset

Everyone who knows and loves Alison is happy that she is alive. She is truly an inspiring woman.

1 comment:

Bill said...

Had you died 10 years ago, you would have 'missed' nothing; you would be dead, and thus be unable to miss it.

To say that I'm glad I didn't commit suicide last year when I was depressed is merely to say that I enjoy my life now. However, I admit that had I ended my life then, I would never have known what I had missed. It would have ended the suffering, and it would not have been an irrational decision. Suicide is not plausibly a decision one can regret -- unless, of course, it fails.

How many cases like yours are there? I'm guessing not many. As someone who has suffered immensely, I'm sure you have sympathy with those who wish to end their life, even if you disagree with the decision. But who are you to deny them that decision?

My life is my own, and I wish to keep it that way. And I know for a fact that, were I to fall ill tomorrow with something terminal, I would take the less painful road out -- preferably with assistance, and with recognition of its moral legitimacy.