Published on February 26, 2014 | by Karma Symington and Ruby Sigurdardottir

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Euthanasia: should we legalise it?

Belgium recently legalised euthanasia for all ages, and it has been brought up in our parliament, headlines and soap operas. ALN discusses the right to die.

Ruby argues the freedom to die is a basic human right. [Linwei Li]

Ruby Sigurdardottir, ALN’s Online Output Editor, argues for the legalisation of euthanasia: 

As Belgium becomes the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia for children, I am left wondering: what is taking the UK so long to allow terminally ill, but able-minded adults to decide when they want to end their lives?

The issue hit the UK headlines in 2012 when Tony Nicklinson, who suffered with locked-in syndrome, campaigned for his right to die. When the courts refused to allow his assisted suicide, he refused to eat and died of complications from pneumonia just one week later. News reports declared that Nicklinson had died of grief.

This is the story of a man who endured so much suffering and pain; a man who had no quality of life, and simply wanted to end it all with dignity.

More recently, the issue infiltrated one of our most beloved soap operas, with Coronation Street’s Hayley Cropper choosing to end her life after her pancreatic cancer became too much to bear.

Demand

Just last week, a story emerged of an elderly couple, Raphael and Tamar Altman, who chose to die together by drinking poison after Raphael’s cancer reappeared. In December, husband and wife Glenys and Royston Smith, aged 88 and 91, jumped to their deaths out of a second storey window after their health began to decline.

The influx of similar reports in a relatively short space of time make it clear that assisted suicide is a service that is very much in demand and, until it is made legal, people will carry on resorting to their own methods of ending it all.

I believe that providing assisted suicide in a secure, medical environment is undoubtedly better than the situation we have now, where people have to devise their own ways of killing themselves, e.g. through starvation or stopping medication to let the disease ‘finish the job.’ By not allowing assisted suicide, we are simply forcing those suffering to resort to their own, often appalling, methods.

I am sure that the lawmakers who say that voluntary euthanasia should remain illegal, if put in Nicklinson’s shoes, would choose the relatively painless and instantaneous death from a lethal injection over the method that he decided he had to choose.

Physical agony

I know that if I were given the choice to either die, or have to endure physical agony for the rest of my life, I would choose the first option.

When one of our pets becomes seriously ill, and we determine that the creature’s quality of life is diminished, we don’t hesitate, for lack of a better term, to ‘put it out of its misery.’ Why don’t we, as a ‘dignified’ country, allow suffering humans to end their own misery in a dignified way?

I am not saying that we should treat people in the same way as we treat animals; I am arguing that, in some cases, we treat our animals better than people by ending their suffering. In what is supposed to be one of the most advanced societies in the world, I find this shocking.

My final argument for the legalisation of assisted suicide in the UK is a simple one: it’s what the people want. In 2007, The British Social Attitudes report surveyed 3,000 people and found an overwhelming 80 per cent of them were in favour of voluntary euthanasia, and Tony Nicklinson’s Right to Die petition received almost 40,000 signatures.

There is an undeniable desire for this service in Britain, and policy-makers are doing themselves no favours by denying people that service.

Britain is supposed to be a free country. Give us the freedom to die.

Karma Symington , Features Writer, argues against the legalisation of euthanasia  

Headshot of Karma Symington

Karma believes that there are better methods to relieve suffering than euthanasia. [Benjamin Bishop]

The right to die is an issue that strongly divides public opinion. Is euthanasia acceptable, or does it go against the natural course of life? In light of Belgium’s recent extension of its euthanasia law to children who are suffering with terminal and incurable illness, the debate has again rekindled in the UK.

I oppose the idea of legalising euthanasia in the UK: the notion of having the right to die can so easily be associated with the duty to die. Many patients enduring a painful battle against ill health are under not just physical stress, but are also in emotional and mental turmoil.

As individuals, especially in the UK, we don’t like to ask for help and instead present a facade of strength. Making euthanasia legal would give people the right to die, but it could also act as a symbol of encouragement, a way to ease not their pain but to remove the burden they feel they inflict upon family or those caring for them.

Euthanasia will always divide opinion with many believing that it is a person’s right to choose when they die, but is it? And is euthanasia morally any different to suicide? The effect it can have on others is also a major role; it can leave children emotionally and mentally damaged. Why would a parent choose to prematurely leave their child instead of waiting until the time comes naturally? Should we really have the option to end our life, no matter how long or short, before its time?

Slippery slope

I believe that accepting euthanasia is a slippery slope and it can, without consciously doing so, promote involuntary euthanasia, whereby the individual hasn’t asked for help or assistance in ending their life, but the decision is made for them. Those suffering from dementia, old age, or are too young to convey what they want are in essence being completely disregarded. if their desires are not known, it is not the right of another human to assume or take control of their life – and death.

With the correct palliative care, euthanasia is unnecessary. Through the help of medication and with the assistance of doctors, patients can be made as comfortable and pain-free as possible. Is this not the most humane and desirable way to die?

Also, euthanasia may not always work; there are ways in which it may go wrong, and is this then not just adding onto the individual’s suffering? There are those who have tried to commit suicide but have failed and have been brain damaged or paralysed. This is another risk that accepting euthanasia creates.

Morally it is wrong. Whilst I understand that we are entitled to freedom of speech, and with that we should have the freedom to do with our life as we please, in agreeing to euthanasia and making it legal, society and government is diminishing our inherent worth.

Suffering

This value doesn’t depend on anything else – it doesn’t depend on whether we are having a good life that we enjoy, or whether we are making other people’s lives better. We exist, so we have value. We shouldn’t end our lives just because it seems the most effective way of putting an end to our suffering. To do that is not to respect our inherent worth; we are not our own means to an end.

There is always a way out without euthanasia, even in the most complex cases. Ending the patient’s life is not a humane solution to tragic situations of pain and suffering; the physician’s duty is always to kill the pain, not the patient. Proposing that we accept euthanasia shows a lack of confidence in the progress of medical science. There are no limits imposed on the doctors’ means of relieving suffering.

 

 

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