Like so many opposed to assisted suicide, Tiffany Jenkins (Perspective, 16 December) cites Hippocrates who, I am afraid, is not as relevant as he was six centuries ago.
And nor are very peculiar special cases such as the gender reassignation Belgian, or children, or the demented elderly, none of whom are included in current attempts to change the law in Scotland and England.
Her insistence that someone else’s life is always worth living, however undignified, is extraordinarily paternalistic and simply out of sympathy with what most people in the UK think. With proper safeguards, a civilised society should allow the few people who have such unrelieveable suffering that they wish to die, to have the option of an assisted death – which they may or may not take up.
This is far from an “unhealthy development”. If I had a terminal illness, and genuinely thought I had had enough and would be better off dead, I am not having Tiffany Jenkins or anyone else standing over my bed telling me otherwise.
Emeritus Professor of Medical Neurology
South Gray Street
It is absurd for Tiffany Jenkins to suggest that assisted suicide, as she calls it, seems to be the only pressure group campaign that has grown in popularity.
She only needs to look at support for issues like same-sex marriage, nuclear disarmament, women’s rights, the case for independence, to see examples of one type of democracy in action.
I do not doubt that the extent of the popularity of each is cyclical. But the fact that they still exist in various forms refutes Tiffany’s argument, indeed her fear, that assisted dying (as I and others like to call it) seems to be the only growing cause celebre of our time.
She seems to base this on a doubtful proposition. That is that at the heart of the campaign is the belief that many lives are no longer worth living.
She cites the views of Baroness Warnock and recent legislative moves in Belgium and the Netherlands as typical of a prevailing mood. I have to say that I have not noticed that approach in Scotland.
The case for assisted dying is based firmly on the idea that where an individual person makes an informed choice that he or she wishes to end their life, they should be given medical assistance to do so. Those who make a reasoned and well meaning attempt to help them should not be subject to prosecution.
It is totally wrong to suggest that view is based on some visceral approach that there are many lives “not worth living”. Support for assisted dying is based firmly on the principle of individual choice. Legislation to introduce it should concentrate on ensuring that the circumstances of that choice are never abused, and that all other attempts to prolong a civilised life have been exhausted.
Tiffany Jenkins writes: “It is possible to feel sympathy for the terminally ill and for those who think they have had enough”.
She quotes Aquinas’s assertion that suicide contravenes one’s duty to oneself (what- ever this means). She thinks the elderly and infirm are seen as a waste of space and we (all) are seen as having a duty to die.
It is not clear if she actually has compassion for those who are, in their sole opinion, at an end. Can she not see her way to supporting those who have to have help to end what is to them a truly wretched life?
Sufferers who know for sure that they are in certain terminal decline leading to increasing loss of physical and mental functions can find ways to “meet their maker”, but locked-in syndrome sufferers cannot. Is there a way for them to be helped without unleashing a cry that that is a way of doing away with a nuisance?
Further, palliative care can be a real help for many in decline, but not everyone wants this, although those who do must be supported to the end and not coerced into termination.
Sliding quietly into oblivion is perhaps what we all want in the end, but who is going to be asked to bring this on early if we try to avoid reaching the stage of not being able to manage this for ourselves?
Medical staff are in a dilemma if asked to do so, although it appears that some types of cessation of care are accepted if the (invasive) treatments are truly hostile to very ill patients’ wellbeing.
It would be good if the whole issue could be debated more objectively without retreating into a “life is sacred” per se mode.
Too many people would like help to be available, if needed, for such a superficial rejection of their interests to be other than unfair.
Tiffany Jenkins states that assisted dying and euthanasia “cannot be a healthy development” and that they are “a loss of belief in life”, yet she not once addresses the question of quality of life.
Quality of life can mean different things to different people.
Ms Jenkins makes mention of the Belgian transsexual Nathan Verhelst, who chose assisted dying after his gender reassignment went terribly wrong.
Mr Verhelst was 44 and faced with an entire life of knowing he could never be fully male. Facing that on a daily basis for perhaps more than 40 years, he felt that death held less terror. Who are we to question that?
There is no-one, not even therapists, who ever counselled Mr Verhelst over his dilemma, for the simple fact that none of them has ever been in his position.
As sad and tragic as his case was, it was Mr Verhelst’s life, and his decision to end it; a choice which should be respected. Our lives are our own.
They are not the property of the state and far less of any religion. Why then should we show human beings less compassion than animals when quality of life is gone?
Forcing someone whose quality of life is gone to continue living is the cruellest, most inhumane thing we can do to other humans; not least because as sapient creatures, they have the terror of knowing what is happening to them.
Far from loss in a faith in life therefore, assisted dying and euthanasia are the ultimate respect for life, and the right of the individual what to do with their life.
Leslie John Thomson