Death is the one thing nobody likes to talk about, but at the same time, something that happens to everyone. Death does not discriminate, but we can hope at the very least for a so-called “good death”.
The Scottish charity, Good Life, Good Death Good Grief believes in the importance of a good death for patients, caregivers, and bereaved friends and relatives. One of the expert citations they use is this, taken from the NHS End of Life Care Programme in 2011.
““Death is not an easy thing to discuss but quality care depends on us being able to talk about it. Straightforward, sensitive and open communication between health and social care workers, the individuals they support – and their families and friends – underpins all good services and makes it more likely that people’s wishes and needs will be met.”
But what of a person’s wish to die at a time of their choosing? Should that need or wish be met too? There is no denying that this wish is an ethical, moral and moreover, a philosophical minefield. It would test too even the boundaries of the most compassionate and spiritual free thinkers, not to mention theologians.
Factually speaking, it is against the spirit of the Hippocratic Oath to do harm and to administer deadly drugs to a patient, even if they have requested them.
There is no denying that the issue of assisted dying provokes strong feelings on both sides of the debate, and strong opinions.
Even the most ardent of assisted dying campaigners would admit that this is controversial area of debate, and that by negotiating such terrain, they are entering a minefield. For many, this minefield is too sinister to contemplate.
The moral imperative behind the issue is tricky too. Is it morally right to take a life based on wishes alone? Wishes, prognoses and subsequent feelings can change.
For many though, doctors are seen as gatekeepers and oppressors, who use their training privilege to make decisions on behalf of, and not in consultation with the people concerned.
For doctors too, they are in a difficult position, for which I do have much sympathy. It opens the floodgates for people to scapegoat doctors and puts them in the extraordinarily unenviable position of having to defend their decisions to relatives and friends. I am bound to remind readers that assisting or hastening someone’s death is an illegal act in the United Kingdom.
The case of Paul Lamb has certainly added new fuel to this debate. He has now taken up the legal case first brought by Tony Nicklinson, requesting that doctors help him to end his life.
Speaking to The Independent, Lamb said;
“I am in pain every single hour of every single day. I have lived with these conditions for a lot of years and have given it my best shot.”
The period between 1990 and 2003 equates to a total of 23 years. That is a long time, especially when one adds into the mix that Paul Lamb had a car accident in 1990. It muddies the waters of the need to preserve life at all costs.
I feel it would be apposite to disclose something at this point. I have a physical disability, cerebral palsy. It is a non-progressive condition, and stays stagnant.
I can speak though, and feed myself, plus I can talk, a lot.
However, I cannot deny that there are times when I have felt suicidal, to a palpable degree. Then I have done the right thing, and called the Samaritans, and they have been fantastic, always guiding me through periods of suicidal ideation.
I am fortunate now that such periods of permanent emotional darkness are almost nonexistent, and the desire to live radiates strongly from my every pore.
However, I am left pondering the question of what if?
That is to say that I am luckier than many people with disabilities, and arguably a good deal luckier than Paul Lamb.
I have a really positive live in carer who is like mental Duracell for the soul. She encourages me positively in every endeavour, and gives me the will to live instead of die.
Also, I have movement in some limbs, and can stand a little, albeit for very brief periods. It is better than being unable to at all, and my glass is always half full.
The ultimate deal breaker though for me, in the spirit of candour, would be my speech. I am very fortunate that despite being born 3 months early I have always had good speech and linguistic skills. If I lost those, I know I would feel crushed and broken. So in that situation I would be more ambivalent about my own assisted death. We are all mortal after all, each with our deal breakers and vulnerabilities.
Being frank, if I had the same level of functionality and bodily autonomy that Paul Lamb does, I can say categorically I could not cope. I am a sensitive person as it is.
Yes doctors are medically trained and are professional experts. I also believe that each one of us is an expert on ourselves. Thus we are intimately acquainted with our own personalities, our own plight, and should be able to determine our own destiny.
Psychologically too, it is acknowledged that there is a vast difference between suicidal ideation and the feeling of going out and killing yourself.
I can do no more that empathise with Paul Lamb and Tony Nicklinson’s pain, coupled with that of friends and relatives. But Paul Lamb endures his pain too. I cannot guarantee that if I were in his shoes, suicidal thoughts would not be a pre-occupation.
You see, I nearly lost my life to sepsis in 2011. I was ambivalent to death. I kept eating every meal thinking upon whether it would be my last.
Well of course it was not, and my life flourished. At the time though, I was resolute. The central story in this narrative is of a man struggling, struggling badly with daily pain, and lacking the circumstances for a laissez-faire approach. I cannot say that if it was me in that position I would want to continue on that path for the rest of my life.
For me, in honour of a second chance I was given in 2011, I shall keep running up that hill. Because I feel able to cope and I have fabulous support.
That does not mean to say I would not support anyone’s right to choose assisted dying. Choice represents dignity, independence and autonomy.
Let us not condemn Paul Lamb and leap to the usual straw man argument of why can’t he live?
He’s given it his best shot, he says and I believe him. I think his wishes should be h0noured, and the Law changed. He ought to be allowed to die with dignity and without a media circus.
He is living with his circumstances – he doesn’t want to that’s all. We should respect that, whatever appetite for the preservation of life we have. We are not living in Paul’s body. He is the expert and should be his decision and his alone. He is fighting a battle with himself, his cruel circumstances, and detractors.
I can give you morals and philosophy, or I can give you the truth. Paul Lamb wants to die. He is cogent, and mentally sound. Paul is living in his body I am not. I cannot deny that I would not feel the same way. It would be oppressing of me to silence him. We should change the law now, without delay.