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Monday, 01 September 2014

Right to die?

The judgement of Mr Justice Peter Jackson that a woman, who has given up on life after suffering years with an eating disorder, should be force fed is, in my humble view, a judgement of Solomon.

The Right to Die is one that is becoming increasingly easy to claim and more complicated as more and more claimants fall inside the right.

Where someone is at the end of their life and likely to endure a painful and/or undignified end, it seems right to allow them to forgo those last few weeks or months in search of peace. I would advocate that where someone has physical difficulties that preclude them for taking the necessary steps to end their life we should allow help for them short of the actual administration of death – you can collect the drugs from the chemist opt arrange for them to travel to Dignitas, but you can’t actually kill them.

However, this case was different and increasingly we will see ‘different’ cases as the right to die is extended.

In this case the patient was a woman who had, in recent years, suffered from an eating disorder and had now decided she wished no further treatment or solid food so she could die as her life had been ‘pure torment’. The difference with this case was that there is every likelihood that with proper treatment she could fully recover and live a long and fulfilling life and Mr Justice Jackson hoped there may come a day when she realised she was a “special person whose life is of value”.

I am reminded of a case involving 23 year old Daniel James who suffered catastrophic injuries in a rugby training session that left him paralysed from the chest down and, despite the pleadings of his parents that they found his spirit still worthy, he ended what was claimed to be a second class existence in the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland. A similar young man, also injured in rugby training, 20 year old Matt Hampson, has decided to carry on with his life despite his appalling injuries.

While the ages of the two men are similar and the reason for their physical condition is the same the similarities end. One decided he did not wish to live with the indignities his condition caused him while the other decided to ‘make the best of a bad job’. I cannot judge either man as I do not share their misfortune but I am saddened by Daniel’s decision (but fully understand his reasoning) and I am gladdened that Matt, who was recently on the sidelines for the Aviva Premiership Final with his club, Leicester, tries to overcome his feelings of despair.

Nothing in assisted suicide is easy and for Mr Justice Jackson to have made this quite extraordinary and controversial decision will, again, open the debate that we should have around this difficult subject.

He has thrown the ball back into the court of the ‘Right to Die’ campaign and I hope that with an open minded discussion we can find a way for those who are not ‘at life’s end’ to see that the human spirit is worth more than a broken body.

I also wish the unnamed patient well with the fervent hope she does overcome her feelings of total despair and recovers to be that special person whose life is of value she so richly deserves to be.

By Ashley Tiffen
Published: June 18, 2012

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