Everyone should be able to determine when to end their lifeby Gillian Tindall / January 11, 2013 / Leave a comment
Said the professor of education with a Distinguished Service Order from the war: “I would like to see accepted… and established by law, the right of the individual at his own request to be helped out of life in such a way that this last act could be performed in the most humane, civilised and considerate way possible.”
So is this from a submission made to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Choice at the End of Life, which has been producing a draft Bill which Lord Falconer will take to the Lords? Or perhaps it comes from a recent debate in the newsletter of Dignity in Dying, or maybe from their more cutting-edge sister organisation Health Professionals for Assisted Dying? Or maybe it is from the Society for Old Age Rational Suicide, which aims with low-profile discretion to carry the debate further?
Actually, no. It is from an AGM address to the Voluntary Euthanasia Society in 1973, and no one then present regarded these views as particularly advanced, let alone unacceptable. VES was founded in 1935; its emphasis was firmly on the voluntary, with human rights at the heart of the movement, though these were a much less fashionable topic then than they are today. In the 1980s I was on the VES committee, and I contributed articles on the subject to national newspapers, typically when some high-profile person had decided to take his dying into his own hands or when a court case about the act of a kindly doctor or a devoted spouse was making news.
We have moved on from there: the Director of Public Prosecutions made the decision in 2010, recently endorsed by parliament, that it is not in the public interest to prosecute someone who assists in a suicide for compassionate reasons. This has brought some common sense and honesty into a legal trap that should never have been set in the first place.
We have not, however, moved toward the concept of it being a human right to determine your own end—rather, we have retreated on the matter. Today, Dignity in Dying is a mainstream organisation, and in its desire to be respectable and not frighten anyone it has tended…