Assisted suicide – the other side of the coin

Tony Nicklinson, who had a stroke 7 years ago and is paralysed from the neck down, is in court today asking for the law on murder to be changed so that a doctor may kill him, not immediately but when he chooses.

His demands have been so one-sidedly promoted by the media, including, as usual, the supposedly unbiased BBC, that it is not surprising that the general public has the impression that he is representative of the disabled in general.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

The overwhelming majority of disabled people, in the UK and worldwide, are opposed to any relaxation of the law, which at present protects them. The media hardly ever shows disabled people who are campaigning against euthanasia, let alone the vulnerable thousands who, by definition, are not likely to have the strength for political action. 

Even for those who are as handicapped as Tony, what affects their "quality of life" is their own attitude and the love and care of those around them. There are many people with what is loosely called "locked-in syndrome" who live cheerful productive lives. 

Bram Harrison is a DJ for a radio programme although he can only move his eyes.  Martin Pistorius's book "Ghost Boy" tells how he spent almost ten years conscious but unable to communicate, but now at 36, he is married and runs a computer business from a wheelchair, using computerised speech.  Jean-Dominique Bauby's autobiographical ‘Diving Bell and the Butterfly’ was made into a film.  There are many other inspiring stories.

Studies show that people with extreme disabilities are on the whole as likely to be happy and glad to go on living as those without disabilities.  As well as the copycat effect by which suicides rise when given publicity, there is a well documented good effect in lowering the numbers by showing people who have coped well with adversity. 

The media could do more of this rather than the pessimistic pro-death advertising that is so prevalent.  Of course everyone is sympathetic to the difficulties of Tony and his family, but these do not entitle him to frighten and put at risk others who are disabled.  He, like virtually all the pro-euthanasia campaigners, and those who have had help to kill themselves in Zurich, is such a strong-minded person that one cannot imagine him being pushed into a decision against his will.  He has a loving family whom he entirely trusts.  Such people seem unable to grasp that the law has to take account of those who are not so firm-minded, and who might, deliberately or inadvertently, be persuaded that they should ask to die. The stories of elder abuse show that not every family is to be depended on to care for the well-being of helpless relations.

There are some rights so basic and necessary for people in general that the law does not allow an individual to waive them.  A man may not, for example, sell himself into slavery. The right not to be deliberately killed is such a right, which for the sake of the weak, the law must defend.