Assisted dying is an ethical minefield and not just a matter of personal choice

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director – Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Charles Moore wrote an excellent article published in[the British publication] the Telegraph on February 9.

Moore begins by responding to the story of Geoffrey Whaley (80) who died by assisted suicide at a suicide clinic in Switzerland. Whaley had a letter sent to the media and parliament, after his death, arguing that the law should change in the UK. Moore writes:

Mr. Whaley’s story follows a familiar media pattern. It is one of a determined and suffering person, usually with a brave and supportive spouse and/or children, making a rational choice to die rather than suffer further. In this narrative, any public authority which tries to block the path is shown as cruel and, to use a word chosen by Mr .Whaley, “hypocritical”

Moore responds by pointing out that Whaley isn’t the only story. There are many more stories about people who live until they die naturally. Moore writes:

MPs [Members of Parliament] must (and do) think about the effect not only on the relatively few who decide to go to places like Dignitas, but also on everyone else, especially the vulnerable. It is not out of stupidity that Parliament has repeatedly, after much debate, declined to change the law in the way Mr. Whaley demands. It is because this is a profoundly difficult subject.

In media terms, it is much harder to tell the story of those who have not sought the path of assisted suicide than that of those who have; yet there are hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions – of the former. They vastly outnumber the latter.

Moore tells us the personal story of his brother-in-law who died by cancer, three years ago. The death of his brother-in-law inspires him:

Although entirely tolerant of those who thought otherwise, he had no belief in the existence of God. In soldiering on, he was not trying to uphold a religious tenet. He was simply brave and honest. This is what gave him, to coin a phrase, dignity in dying. The cancer duly killed him. It was a terrible thing to watch. But his last years of life were not worthless: they were inspiring. Nor were they unendurable: he endured them.

There are thousands of such examples every year. It is important that people hear about them. Otherwise, those facing terminal illness will receive only a message of despair. Despair is false – as false as false hope.

Moore concludes by explaining how many people are not treated with equality in society.

I agree with Moore that it is far more difficult to tell the story of a true death with dignity, living until one dies, there is also a relunctance among the media to tell the story of the personal effect that is had on families and individuals who are pressured to “choose” euthanasia and the effect upon the family that is left behind. …

Assisted death is sold to the culture in a philosophically pure sense, meaning, it is about my body, my choice. The reality of the act and decisions are in fact very different. The reality of giving the physician, the right in law to cause death, is not an easy topic. We would rather say that doctors and nurses wouldn’t do those things. But in reality, choice is an illusion, and for many “choice” is only the banner that is waved to encourage legalization.

Editor’s note. This is a slightly edited version of a post that appeared on Mr. Schadenberg’s blog.