13 May 2006


Bishop of Leicester opposes Assisted Suicide Bill

Yet another prominent religionist has decided that his god wants to dictate our rights and freedoms. The Bishop of Leicester's letter to the Mercury is available here . This is my response:

Due to his misguided beliefs the Bishop of Leicester has come out against a Bill that would finally grant people the right to die with dignity at a time and in a manner of their choosing. In doing so he has helped condemn large numbers of people to years of avoidable physical and psychological pain. Whilst he is justifiably concerned that some people may be pressured into hastening their own demise, he conveniently ignores the evidence from places such as Oregon and Switzerland, which shows that allowing assisted suicide does not lead to people choosing to die early because they feel they’ve become burdens.

Why is a 27 year old atheist supporting assisted suicide when to atheists this life is the only one we’ve got? Let me explain. In my family we have a history of late onset mental disorders, including Alzheimer’s, which studies suggest is hereditary. I also have an extreme fear of all things medical which has caused numerous panic attacks and two nervous breakdowns – in short, I really don’t like hospitals. I’ve seen Alzheimer’s first hand, my grandfather died of it several years ago. Like other disorders such as dementia it kills its victims over a long period of progressive mental deterioration and sufferers require 24 hour care in their final years, yet they are also obviously conscious of what’s going on around them until near the end. If I ever come down with the disease, or any other terminal illness, then I want the right to be spared what for me would be hell on Earth. A simple Living Will would make this clear, but they need to be made legally binding to ensure they can be enacted, and anyone asked to assist some in their wishes should not have to fear being prosecuted for performing a final and immensely difficult act of love and kindness.

I don’t believe in a god, but I’m not afraid of death. No fictional deity has determined when I’m going to die, or that I have no right to influence when I go. If I’m wrong then she and I can have that debate once I’ve recovered from the shock of waking up in an afterlife! What Lord Joffe, myself, and many others want is the right to choose not to suffer, and that those we may ask to assist us in exercising that right are protected from prosecution.

I thought the alleviation of suffering was a Christian virtue?


While I understand the thinking behind the bill and why humanists tend to support it, in my view this is not a necessary part of being a humanist.

I take the view that anyone who really wants to kill themselves can do so very easily by umpteen methods, and it is not ethical to get others involved in doing something you are too ignorant or fearful to do yourself.

Probably I'm just an old stiff-upper lip stoic, which seems to be out of fashion these days, but is a good solid rational philosophy.
If I was that fearful and less ignorant (of the future, which we can't predict exactly anyway) then I'd do myself in now.

I was talking about the right to make a legally binding living will. The right to decide how you wish to be treated should you become permanently incapacitated beyond a level that you would personally consider to be able to live life with dignity. Furthermore, the right to trust someone enough to know that they will carry out un unbelievably difficult act (and I'm not sure I could do it as I haven't been there) without them facing a prison sentence for a final act of love.

In my own case there is evidence that suggests that, if I don't wear myself out with over-indinulgence first :) there is a fair chance that I may come down with a disease that permanently impairs my judgement but (from what I've seen) retains the sense of 'self' to some extent or other. Whether I'm aware of it or not I do not wish to suffer years of progressively degenerative mental illness, and I wish to choose not to do so whilst I am able. Even if Alzheimer's, or any other disease, was to remove the phobia that paralyses me (and I very much doubt it does) then I want to be able to choose to die with dignity whilst I am of (reasonably) sound mind.

Surely to do so is stoical? Did Brutus not choose to die with dignity on his own sword?

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