The right to dignity=The right to dieon August 23, 2012 at 1:49 am
Tony Nicklinson died of natural causes yesterday. While I am sad to see his passing I am glad that his wishes were finally able to be fulfilled.
For those not following his case, Nicklinson was a 58 year old British man who became paralyzed after suffering a stroke in 2005. Unable to move any part of his body or care for himself, he could only communicate via a system of eye blinks. He developed locked-in syndrome, an incurable condition in which a patient loses all motor functions but remains awake and aware, with all cognitive abilities. After years of the torture of being trapped in a body that he could not control he had the simple request to be allowed to die with dignity. To end life on his own terms and escape his “living nightmare”. Unable to move a muscle himself but fully cognizant of his decision, he pleaded that someone may be able to escape prosecution when helping to give him the injection that would enable him to escape the literal hell he was placed in.
In an essay he wrote before the court case, Mr. Nicklinson said,
“It cannot be acceptable in 21st-century Britain that I am denied the right to take my own life just because I am physically handicapped.” He added, “It is astonishing that in 1969 we could put a man on the moon, yet in 2012 we still cannot devise adequate rules for government-assisted dying.”
I know this is a sticky issue. I know many liberals, atheists, agnostics, and non-conservatives are against Assisted Death. I know the arguments both for and against. I know that people fear allowing Death with Dignity because they believe it will allow families and doctors to slaughter patients wholesale without any just cause. But I cannot help but be moved when I see the photo of Nicklinson weeping at the court’s decision, and I cannot help but feel that something is terribly wrong when such a person cannot choose when it is his time to go.
Raymond Tallis, Chair of the group Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying, has an article in New Humanist in which he offers rationale for why the law regarding assisted dying must be changed:
“The case for a law to legalise the choice of physician-assisted dying for mentally competent people with terminal illness, who have expressed a settled wish to die, is very easily stated. Unbearable suffering, prolonged by medical care, and inflicted on a dying patient against their will, is an unequivocal evil. What’s more, the right to have your choices supported by others, to determine your own best interest, when you are of sound mind, is sovereign.”
Many people view assisted suicide as an evil. I can understand that because the media and religion try so hard to inflate stories of victimized patients a la Kevorkian while implying that death is the utmost horror for anyone to experience. As an example, does anyone remember the controversy of the Terri Schiavo case? That was a person lacking cognizant abilities and in a persistent vegetative state. She was unable to know her body was still alive or that she could think. Her brain had died long before the tube was removed;”death” in her case had occurred long before. Yet, despite all this, how many legal battles occurred before she was allowed to depart with her dignity in shreds?
Nicklinson and others like him are different than Schiavo. They exist in that self professed hell which is much worse than the unknown quiet of death. Alone with their thoughts but unable to act on them, aware of their surroundings but unable to feel the air on their skin, a brain full of hopes and dreams they may never attain- are these things not far worse than any death we may imagine? Now consider being locked in this endless solitude of your mind for 7 years! Is there any torture, any punishment, that you can conceive of that is worse than this? To be alive but unable to live. THAT is the true horror.
Tony and wife Jane before his stroke
Death is just another state. We do not know what it may hold. It may be better than life, it may be worse, it may bring nothing but darkness and a void. We cannot control death. We will all experience it someday. Whether we run from it or embrace it with humility, death will happen to us.
Your fear (or society’s fear) of death should not be used to hold back the rights of others. Just as religion should not be used to hold back the rights of women, blacks, the oppressed, etc. Those like Nicklinson who conscientously choose the warm embrace of death over the continued pain of existence have made their own choice. We should accept that and allow them to die with dignity. If the shoe was on the other foot, wouldn’t you want to be able to choose for yourself? I know I would.
Whether life after death exists or it doesn’t, I don’t know. But I do know this Englishman has touched my heart and the hearts of many others. I hope that minds may have been opened or changed by his story.
While Tony’s family may mourn his loss, they must feel joy that his nightmare has finally ended.