February 6, 2010

UK: My 96-year-old mother wanted to end her life. But I still believe assisted suicide is a path to barbarity

. LONDON, England / The Daily Mail / Health / Debate / February 6, 2010 A civilised society regards killing your fellow man as the most heinous of crimes. Yet suddenly, it is being suggested that there are circumstances in which it should be legally acceptable. A battery of liberal lobbyists is pleading the merits of euthanasia. Their demands follow a spate of cases in which family members have faced trial for assisting the deaths of gravely stricken relatives. Frances Inglis of Dagenham was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for giving an overdose of heroin to her 22-year-old brain-damaged son, Tom. Kay Gilderdale, by contrast, was acquitted by a jury following her trial for assisting the suicide of her 31-year-old daughter Lynn, a chronic ME sufferer. Both trials, some people argue, inflicted inhumane suffering on the accused, and in the first case possibly an unjust verdict. These were two mothers who sought only to do what was best for their beloved children. Final wishes: Anne Scott James - Max Hastings's mother - who passed away last May asked not to be resuscitated if she lost consciousness Even as their cases were making news, novelist Martin Amis, never fearful of stirring sensation, gave a newspaper interview in which he called for the establishment of euthanasia booths on street corners for pensioners to end their lives with 'a martini and a medal'. Then, in the BBC Richard Dimbleby Lecture, best- selling writer Sir Terry Pratchett revealed that he intends to end his own life when the Alzheimer's from which he suffers becomes unbearable, and called for the introduction of special tribunals to rule on cases of planned assisted suicides. A growing body of opinion is pressing for changes in the law to permit assisted suicide. The crusaders make two related points. First, there is a suggested 'right to choose death'. Second, medical science is extending life at a phenomenal rate. Only this week, it was reported that a span of 120 years may soon become commonplace, just as 100 is not unusual today. Yet, while science gets cleverer at prolonging existence, much less progress is being made in improving quality of life. Terry Pratchett revealed that he intends to end his own life when the Alzheimer's from which he suffers becomes unbearable The 'reformers' argue: why should the state insist unwanted longevity is protracted, at vast and maybe unsustainable cost to society? These issues deserve the widest discussion. But nobody should pretend the answers are easy or that the case in favour of euthanasia has been settled. To read the views of some zealots, you might suppose that 'mercy killing' was a simple matter of decency, like helping old ladies across the street or having sick dogs put down. In truth, of course, human life and death is the greatest of all issues. Only fools suggest the choices are obvious. As it happens, I have some recent experience of extreme old age. My mother, the writer Anne Scott-James, lived to be 96. She was unusually lucky in that until her last day her mind was razor sharp. A classical scholar in her youth, in her late 80s she returned to reading Virgil in Latin to assuage chronic boredom. But in her last years, she became fed up, weary of increasingly acute physical infirmities and indignities. 'I've lived too long,' she often said. 'All my life I've liked to think of myself as a contributor. Now I'm just a passenger and I hate it. I want to go.' She made a 'living will', and wrote letters to me and my sister Clare, giving strict instructions that, in the event that she suffered some mishap which caused her to lose consciousness, she was not to be resuscitated. Click here to continue reading this article Martin Amis has called for euthanasia booths on street corners, where elderly people can end their lives with a martini and a medal [rc] © Associated Newspapers Ltd