Mercy killing

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Once again, Martin Conroy (Letters, October 16) demonstrates his adherence to a cult of suffering for suffering’s sake. “When pain cannot be removed it must be borne,” he pronounces.

The sufferer may be crying out for his or her death to be brought about, but, according to Mr Conroy, “true ‘compassion’ leads to sharing another’s pain. It does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear.”

Note the last five words. Mr Conroy airbrushes from his picture the suffering of the patient and his or her pleas for an assisted death and focuses instead on the distress of the observer. Apparently, if I try ever so hard to enter into the anguish of the suffering patient, then everything is fine and dandy, morally.

Dismissing the idea of a right to die, he says: “We do not have a claim on death. Rather, death has a claim on us!”

This grisly personification of death as someone with a right against us reinforces the morbid framework of Mr Conroy’s opposition to assisted suicide. He does grant that a measure that shortens the patient’s life is permissible if the “intention” is not to end the life and only to avoid pain or a burdensome procedure, but is not permissible if the “intention is to cause death”.

This so-called doctrine of double effect, though apparently upheld by the Roman Catholic Church, is of dubious moral significance, since in both cases the practitioner knows full well that death will be the outcome, and hiding behind the claim that it is a pain-reducing measure, too, looks suspiciously like a self-deceiving evasion of responsibility for what one is in fact doing.

Blinkering oneself to the reality of what one is doing is not a good thing in medicine or in life generally, even where, as when the patient requests their death be brought about to avoid great suffering, what is being done is good and honourable.

Paul Brownsey

Larchfield Road


Far too often in my long career I sat by the beds of parishioners as they lived out their final days in the grossest indignity and suffering. Martin Conroy’s merciless semantics mock the reality of dying in extremis and in scenes too harrowing to describe I longed for a kindly medic to put an end to the nightmare.

The Commission on Assisted Dying’s latest report states what I know only too well: “The current legal status of assisted suicide is inadequate and incoherent.”

Ideologues raise every sort of objection; recite mantras about slippery slopes and cherry-pick obscure passages from the Bible.

But the time has come for the government to look again at the law because modern medicine is preventing nature taking its merciful course.

(Rev Dr) John 

St Andrews