Molly Meacher, whose Bill to allow assisted dying gets its further reading in the Lords today, gave an interesting interview on BBC radio today – there was no other speaker to counter her arguments; an exchange of views came later in the programme. She explained that her engagement with the cause had been prompted by the lonely death of an aunt who had a terminal illness; she went on to describe the unpleasant conditions that could not be dealt with by palliative care. But then the interviewer, Martha Kearney, went on to ask about the problem that old people might be made to feel a burden. Baroness M said that she had four children, whom she loved more than anything, and went on to observe that while some old people may want to die because they are suffering, ‘they might also not want to be a burden on their families.’ This was, she felt, a valid reason. And she went on to ponder how it was that she’d like her children to remember her.
In other words, the argument segued from the safeguards and the very-worst-case scenarios to the more imprecise and more emotive question of quality of life and whether old and sick people should be asking themselves whether they are a burden to their families and society.
And that’s exactly how it works out in practice. What starts out as a measure for extreme cases with apparently impregnable safeguards – the original abortion legislation was very tightly framed – ends up in astonishingly short order becoming a matter of personal autonomy and individual preference.
The thing is, this is one area where the whole argument about individual choice doesn’t work because the very fact of the availability of assisted suicide changes the way everyone dies; all of a sudden there’s a choice that wasn’t there before that people with unpleasant conditions have to engage with.