I'd been meaning to write a piece about this topic for some time, but could never put it into a comprehensible or articulate manner. Luckily I found someone who could.
Guest post - by Wendy Fraser (aka PJ)
I’ll lay my cards on the table straight away, I’m delighted by the ruling in support of Debbie Purdy and I also wholeheartedly support a change in the laws surrounding assisted suicide and euthanasia. Undoubtedly a number of people will already have decided upon reading those statements that they disagree with me, that I am wrong and they are right. Well that’s okay. This is not an easy topic to discuss, and it’s certainly highly emotive and controversial, but my motive in stating my viewpoint is the hope that it may ignite some sparks of useful debate. My fear is that the debate will yet again fade from the spotlight without progressing beyond previous circuitous arguments.
It’s hard to be challenged on something that feels like a moral absolute, even harder to acknowledge that there is value in the reciprocal viewpoint. I experienced this a few years ago when I was training to work with a charity that deals with suicide. I walked through the door with the complete belief that we were all there to prevent suicide, yet when my training was complete I left with a different point of view. We learned to understand that we couldn’t tell the people we were speaking to that it was wrong of them to consider taking their own lives. How could we possibly understand how they had come to that precipice in their lives when we weren’t living their lives and experiencing their emotional or physical pain?
Our cornerstone was self-determination, that everyone is entitled to the right to decide whether or not they choose to live. Now that doesn’t mean that we didn’t hope that the person we were talking to would change their mind but the key fact was that we didn’t impose our hopes and beliefs upon them. My point in telling this is that all the people on my training course changed their viewpoints, quite radically in some cases, because we were prepared to be challenged and open to being educated about a different point of view.
So how does this serve this debate about assisted suicide? Well firstly I suspect that many people will be able to state deep-seated viewpoints based upon moral beliefs, religious teachings and personal opinions. Those all have tremendous value but my challenge to you would be this - if you found yourself in a similar situation to Debbie Purdy do you think there is a chance those beliefs might be challenged to the extent that you could feel differently than you do now? I guess that’s a bit of a rhetorical question because it’s impossible to say with total certainty how we would react to such an extreme situation but my experience has taught me that I didn’t actually have to change my beliefs, just my perception of the issues.
One of the things that don’t serve this debate well is generalisations and to be honest I think that also demeans the serious nature of the topics being discussed. We can’t possibly compare one life-threatening illness to another, one experience of insufferable pain and anguish to another – and yet we find ourselves discussing guidelines and boundaries to define the legal processes that do just that, they generalise. It is a truly terrifying prospect to imagine that we could create a legal definition whereby life would be defined as being considered no longer tolerable or desirable. What if we got it wrong? What if it was open to abuse? That honestly scares me. But I am more concerned by the prospect of laws that do not recognise that suffering can be intolerable, that life can deteriorate into nothing more than an unbearable existence.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to these issues, no easy path to tread to resolve the many moral and ethical challenges. But one thing I am absolutely positive of is that we must make a stand for our beliefs, a stand for those who are truly vulnerable and at the end of their physical and emotional tethers. I won’t agree with all of the viewpoints I read on these topics, but I do believe that we have to listen to all of them, learn from the experiences of those who can contribute personal insights and be prepared to engage in a debate that will undoubtedly challenge all of us.