James Forsyth

Not a good way to go

Not a good way to go
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Lost amidst the hoopla of the G20 was the shocking admission from the founder and director of Diginitas that he was prepared to help the mentally ill die. This breaches the fundamental importance of the idea that any patient who chooses to have their life ended, and I’m dubious as to whether people should be able to choose to do this, must be of sound mind.

Jenny McCartney neatly sums up the contradictions in the Dignitas argument and just how dangerous the slippery slope that we are sliding down if we legalise euthanasia is:

“There is also a troubling contradiction at the heart of one of Mr Minelli's arguments, that he is perfectly entitled to facilitate the suicide of the mentally unwell. On the one hand mental illness is deemed to be an unbearable source of distress that justifies an exit strategy; on the other, such people are held to be of sufficiently ordered mind to consent to assisted dying. You might say that Mr Minelli can't have it both ways, but then he doesn't appear to mind much which way he has it.

Like most other people, I feel compassion for those like the parents of 23-year-old Daniel James, who took their son to Dignitas last year after he chose to die following extensive paralysis in a rugby accident. It would have been cruel and unnecessary of the British authorities to have pursued them. I also believe that the common practice whereby hospital doctors increase morphine to terminally ill patients in extreme and hopeless pain, even to the point of inducing death, is a humane one. Yet these are very specific circumstances, which do not require the authorities to legislate further, but to have the common sense to turn a blind eye.

The only argument for "assisted dying" for the terminally ill is this: that the disabling effects of their illness make it physically impossible to commit suicide without the help of others. Thus, while one might think their suicide a wrong decision, one can at least sympathise with the desire to have, in extremis, the choice always available to the able-bodied. I cannot see any necessity or logic, however, for assisting the physically well to die.

Yet I suppose we should be grateful for Mr Minelli's chilling frankness, which will surely have led even those who, to quote Keats, are increasingly "half in love with easeful death" to think again. For beneath that soothing, conscience-smoothing title of Dignitas, what we heard issuing last week was not the honouring of humanity, but the bleak denial of it.”  The end of life is one area where we would actually be better off accepting ambiguity in the law. Few want to see those who help the terminally ill hasten their departure from this world prosecuted, but legalising assisted suicide would have terrible consequences. 

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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