Euthanasia: Setting a Date To Die

Is it right to set a date to die? This is the main question asked in Terry Pratchett’s recent documentary on assisted suicide entitled ‘Choosing to Die’. The reason for the documentary is that in this day and age, the issue of assisted suicide should not be as big a deal as it is – and I agree.  The powerful message conveyed is sure to tug the heart strings of every viewer and potentially change one’s outlook on the matter; it definitely changed my mind.

Having gone to an all-girl’s Catholic boarding school for seven years and studying R.S. throughout, I have heard both sides of the debate on euthanasia – both religious and non-religious. It is thrust down our throats from a young age that only God gives life and so only God can take away life. Of course, among other reasons, there is also the fear that if euthanasia were legal people would use it as an excuse to bump off their relatives for money but this shouldn’t prevent the legality of euthanasia. Recently, an interim policy was issued by Keir Starmer QC, the director of public prosecutions (DPP) which states that although euthanasia is illegal, the prosecution an individual would face as a result of their part in one’s decision to die will depend on their intentions in the process. Motives of compassion are less likely to result in a prison sentence (which can last for up to 14 years). Despite this, however, there are still large grey areas in the law which cause both confusion and controversy.

However, there are alternative options available. Dignitas, the assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland provides a safe environment for individuals to die in a dignified and peaceful way. Of course, the    £10 000+ fee is not ideal, nor is the contract of death one has to sign but if it is one’s only option the decision may be taken. The only condition to be satisfied is that one has to be mentally able to communicate their desires to the doctor and to administer the poison on their own. Although this might not seem like a big deal, it has massive implications affecting those who have mentally-degenerating illnesses. It means that one must either choose to die before they are ready, or to live their illness out to the bitter end. This is not ideal and turns life into what Peter Smedley (one of Pratchett’s case studies) calls a “…beastly, undignified business.”

Pratchett’s documentary is both moving and forceful: it leaves one hoping that the laws will change so that issues such as those alluded to by him will be resolved and long-time sufferers of life-long diseases will be put at ease when making choices surrounding assisted suicide. Although strict guidelines would have to be set, I feel that those individuals with both terminal and mentally-degenerating illnesses should be allowed the option of terminating their life early if they so desire; although I find it hard to believe that the grey areas in the law will be cleared up any time soon. 

Olivia Carson

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