Friday, 12 December 2008

A Fate That Could Await Any Of Us

Business has been a bit hectic over the last week so apologies to my limited readership for the the lack of my even more limited writing recently.

Big Margo's documentary on assisted suicide got a UK-wide airing through the week and for a couple of days, the subject was high on the news agenda.

My personal view is that there is a lot to be said for allowing those who wish to end their life to do so in a controlled, humane and dignified fashion. I can see where the Catholic Church are coming from in terms of abortion or genetic engineering but I'm struggling with their view on this one because, as I see it, this is about an individual making an informed choice about their own life rather than some 3rd party making a decision about the life of a helpless unborn child or embryo.

But there is one area that troubles me and I don't think it is getting much attention. It concerns those who might wish to die but who have been assessed as lacking the cognitive ability to make that decision or communicate that wish. I think this is going to be a huge problem in the future as we continue to get better and better at treating physical illness and trauma, resulting in an ageing population with increasing rates of mental degeneration.

Most of us can now expect to live until we are 80 and a large number of us will hit 90 or even 100. Sadly the signs are that our physical well being will not be matched by mental well being at these ages. And, if you are like me, you will fear the prospect of being physically healthy but mentally incapable every but as much as being mentally healthy but physically incapable.

So we might be able to make progress for people who are mentally well enough to take responsibility for making the final decision to end ther lives but how can we ensure that those who are suffering just as intolerable an existence through mental degeneration have access to the same remedy? Even where clear instructions are left before the person in question loses their capacity to decide, someone else is going to have to take responsibility for that final decision and/or act. That is going to be tough to support in a legal framework, I suspect.

It may be a long time away for many of us, but any one of us could end up in this situation through dementia or a similar condition and I would like to think that there would be some way I can ensure that I don't have to live out a meaningless, lonely existence if it comes to that.

I don't have a clue how such a right can be enshrined in law therefore I fully support Margo in calling for a full, open and honest debate about assisted suicide.

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