How do we balance misery as we slide down the slippery slope?

Set in the context of a lone individual who is suffering the final stages of a debilitating illness, the offer of an assisted death can be seen as the alleviation of misery, and therefore as a good idea. Yet this notion is subverted if you take a wider view of society and of different forms of misery. Pain causes misery, but so to does fear.

In earlier posts I talked about us all living a shared life and I said that your kin are who you say they are. This is the fulcrum on which the balance of misery rests. A choice that alleviates one person’s misery can lead to an increase in the suffering of others, and to such an extent that the overall level of suffering in our society can rise. None of this is easy or comforting to anyone suffering from a debilitating condition, and in such circumstances it is difficult to hear that public policy should be set in accordance with what is best for the many rather than the few, but it remains the only credible basis on which any society can function.

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How much sand should remain in the hourglass?

The metaphor of an hourglass succinctly encapsulates the fulcrum on which balance the ideas expressed in the previous three posts when you apply them to the act of assisted dying. As with many aspects of humanity, the general principles of mutual behaviour, however wise and robust in the public arena, can be broken into pieces when dropped onto the hard surface of private family pain.
Those who have experienced the anguish of witnessing someone they love in pain as death approaches will probably have scoffed at the apparent detachment of the ethical arguments I have previously raised. The alleviation of suffering is always a worthy goal, but it depends of the amount of sand remaining in the top of the hourglass. When only a little sand is left, it occupies a narrow space that matches the narrow perspective of the final stage of person’s life. By this I mean the very end, when the medicine given to ease pain can bring death a little sooner, perhaps with the quiet consent of a medical professional who can focus general legalised ethics down to the moral imperative of sparing everyone concerned the final mile of pain. This has been done since before Hippocrates wrote his oath, as it is both practical and compassionate, and it requires the close involvement of the physician with the patient.

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