In my previous posts, I have outlined what underpins my perception of the dangers of changing the law on assisted dying, and those who support legalisation might be wary of what seems like a campaign, but my position is not that one-sided. It is the result of an ethical journey in which religious scripture played no part whatsoever.
Those who support the idea of assisted dying often like to label their opponents as religious sheep who are merely bleating in accordance with the text of an old book, but that is too simplistic a view to take about any moral argument. I walked away from religion decades ago, but I do not reject it as worthless; I just prefer to work things out for myself. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I wrote ‘The Sin of Choice’ because it stayed in my mind and refused to be moved, but there is more to it than that. A simple but persistent idea could persuade you to create a blog or engage in online discussions, but is such an idea enough to compel anyone to write a third of a million words?
The idea did not just persist, it grew, and it took me on a journey that started with a question. The first notes I jotted down about the story were more slanted towards assisted dying being a desirable solution to the prospect of a lingering death. The thought that it could one day be available for me was a source of comfort. It would be my last choice in a life filled with self-determination. It would be the right way for me, as someone who sees himself as an independent thinker, to depart this life with a dignified bow. Yet as the story developed in my mind, a question arose that asked how wide was the scope of my thinking. This led me to take a step backwards and look beyond my own situation.
When individual cases of interminable suffering are highlighted in the media, we are all moved by the plight of the person who is pleading to be spared more pain, but there is a real fear that the legalisation of assisted dying lets out a genie that cannot be put back into the bottle. The genie brings with it the culture of death that I have mentioned in previous posts, not all at once but by small degrees, each building on the previous legal concession. This has already happened in other countries where legislation to allow assisted dying has been passed. Safeguards can be eroded over time via amendments to the law or court rulings on individual cases. Either way, the scope of any original legislation can be expanded and start us on a journey down the slippery slope to a culture where people can visit a doctor and ask for help to die, even if they are not terminally ill. Dutch citizens can already request this service, which in fairness is not as easy as asking for some antibiotics. Criteria have to be met, in accordance with legal procedures, but the constituency of people who qualify is already greater than was envisaged when assisted dying was made legal, and there are calls from some political quarters to expand the boundaries further to include anyone over the age of seventy-five who is ‘tired of life’. This is happening now, but in order to see it you have to look further than your own next step.
When you take a wider view, you see more of the hazards that lie ahead. If more of us look wider, we may all avoid sliding down an ever-steepening slope. How we reconcile this with the personal distress of those in interminable pain is one of the most important questions of our age. It is wrong to label opposition to assisted suicide as a lack of compassion for the dying, so do not let anyone sell you that piece of propaganda. What often divides those on opposite sides of the argument is a matter of scope. Individual pain is a narrow experience that resonates with all who witness it, but the culture of death brings more pain to more people in more ways. It may not seem like that on first inspection, but my own experience has taught me that the more you think about the implications, the more troubling they become.