Sunday, December 05, 2004

The right to choose death

If ever I'm so ill that I'm completely dependent on the kindness of other people or machines to do the simplest things, like breathing, I hope to be able to go to Switzerland, to a charity called Dignitas. That is one place where I'll be able to die with dignity, without inflicting suffering on myself or others. Morbid, perhaps, but the thought of living as a vegetable - and worse, a vegetable in pain - is infinitely more frightening than the oblivion which is brought on of MY choosing. As it is, death is not something I'm afraid of, except for the side effect it has of bringing grief to friends and family.

Dignitas was formed in 1998, and has so far helped nearly 150 people to die. Its motto is "Live with dignity, die with dignity" - a reassuringly practical and understanding outlook on life, as far as I'm concerned. I do not agree with people who think that euthanasia is murder. If someone who is in great pain that cannot be alleviated, or is suffering from a degenerative disease that will inevitably lead to total dependency, for instance, wants to die while they're still in control of their mind, if not their body - well, I think their wish should be carried out. If dogs can eased into death because of a terminal, incurable, painful disease, why cannot the same humane facility be afforded to human beings, who actually have a voice with which to convey their decision about their own future, who have the right to decide if they want to live or not? If it's acceptable for people to have control of their life, it should be acceptable for them to have control of their death, too.

Swiss law has what could be considered a loophole - the gist of it is that assisted death is not a crime as long as the person who did the assisting is not motivated by self-interest and does not personally profit from the death. That is why Dignitas is a charity. Its staff are all volunteers, specialists who ensure that there is no conflict of interest. I consider it a social service that they are doing, despite some opposition from a few Swiss who feel that their country might become a destination for people looking to die.

Actually I think that all countries should offer this option to their citizens, exactly as Dignitas is doing. If the UK had such a law in place, people wouldnt need to travel to Switzerland in search of a permanent solution to their agony. Still, a landmark decision has been made by a High Court Family Division judge here, in a case where a man was banned from taking his terminally-ill and physically incapacitated wife to Switzerland for an assisted suicide. Mr Justice Hedley ruled that it was up to the police to do what they thought best in the circumstances and it was not for a court to decide. The woman in question died last Wednesday in Zurich, so it's pretty clear that the police decided not to prevent them from travelling.

However, her husband could still face police charges here in the UK, because while suicide itself is legal, assisting a suicide is a crime. But, like I said, with some luck that might soon change, because the Assisted Dying Bill is in discussion in the House of Lords. I'm hoping they pass the Bill.

Because if I ever come to a situation where death would be preferable to life, I would hope to go gentle into that good night, instead of raging against the dying of the light. Dylan Thomas, you were wrong.


Anonymous said...

Hi friend,
Your blog asppears overflowing with too many random ideas, thoughts and suggestions for an Indian to sustain. Could you cut down on words, and come with one idea at a time. Then it would be interesting.

Shyam said...

Hi Anonymous, I dont get what you mean. Do you mean that I have too many random thoughts in one post? Or is the comment meant for my blog which has posts about random topics? About the wordiness, you might have a point there. But your criticism would have a lot more going for it if you'd identified yourself.

hari said...


You are absolutely correct. We as humans should definitely have the right to choose our death too, just as we have the right to live. And a properly drafted law in this regard would be a boon to the hundreds of people suffering from cancer and other life crippling diseases, which though may not have killed them fully, but definitely taken the life out of them forever. Alongwith the such patients , even their family suffer great mental, physical and financial agony on not being able to give the patient a painless death on one side and not being able to financially afford to keep them painlessly alive till death.

But the law should be carefully framed or else this provision could be used both for murders as well as suicides and become a safe haven for criminals.

Anonymous said...

This post has really set me thinking...though, for once, I can't seem to get my thoughts in order and in words. Let me take time out and come back shortly. Cheeers till then! :) Ravi

Anonymous said...

Hi Shyam. Couple of thoughts. One, the luxury of a painless death or a death that comes easily, without pain etc is simply not in our hands. That said, I don't think we should ever worry about it. The only reason we need to think about it is for, as you say, the side-effects to family, particularly. Thats my second thought. However, what I would like to add is that as long as the WILL to live burns brightly within us, we really shouldn't be worrying about death. In my experience, I know of people who talked about having "one foot in the grave" even though they were alive and having the best of facilities/faculties - that was sad! Personally, its important to keep living fully & learning each & every day - that way, I think I would not like to die at all! Am I not being childishly optimistic now? He He. :) Ravi