Thursday, 30 July 2009

Life Is A Terminal Condition

The Royal College of Nursing on the basis of an internet response of 0.3% of their 390,000 strong membership have decided that their position on Assisted Suicide will be neutral in the future and not in opposition. I wonder how many nurses with particular religious principles may be struck off or have careers ruined for refusing to assist in cases where a patient, or the patients family or associates, want to end it all? More interesting is just who was involved in promoting this decision, why, and what representations were made to them? We shall never know, but we do know that in circles that exert influence there have been moves in the recent past to encourage euthanasia, if only to allow a marginal increase in GDP per head, and therefore claim economic growth. Inevitably, it is all alleged to be really quite simple in principle, and only a small number of cases will be involved. Where have we heard that one before? Then we are amazed at how many more occur.

As if our Parliamentarians haven’t found themselves in enough messes, including being invited by the Government to surrender their constitutional rights to the judiciary, the risks are that they might now make of muck of the more basic business of life and death. Many of us older persons probably can recount the errors of judgement and moments of insanity that might have resulted in The End, without the rolling credits. There are some who have narrowly survived the same made by medical staff, but now we have to face those about to be made by lawyers and human rights activists.

John Mortimer, the wonderful writer, humanist, and perceptive commentator on our world was reckoned to be well towards the Left in his philosophy, but was violently against any suggestion of euthanasia or “assisted suicide”. He was a lawyer by trade, but he had served in many Probate cases, and had realised that when money, wills, legacies, and families or others, often members of the clergy, were involved, those concerned were liable whatever their background, education, or other qualities, to relapse into a primeval state of predation and determination to take all they could get imaginable. Civilisation and conscience would be lost at the moment the possibility of a valid death certificate arose. John was certain that if euthanasia etc. became possible and legal, the same would occur whether death was possible or even improbable.

An uncle who became aware that a local clergyman who was ever willing to turn up in the last days of a parishioner often arrived with a will form from the local stationers and witnesses in need of indulgences. Because of his zeal in hounding the local diocese for justice, we came to know my uncle as “The Willfinder General”, but he did save carers from destitution and others from serious loss, at the cost to the clergy of their regular trips to the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The issues have become more complicated in recent decades as reliable food supplies, better housing overall, and advances in medicine and science have kept most of us alive for longer. The price of this has been many people surviving to a great and infirm age, despite serious conditions, or in some cases major handicaps. By the use of high technology a human being can be kept in a state of half life, or at the margin of death for long periods, albeit at high cost. Theoretically, it is these cases that the idea of euthanasia and the connected assisted suicide has come to be regarded as a palliative by some, and a good vote winning wheeze by others.

The trouble is how do you make the decisions at the margins? How many cases will be at the margins? Who will effectively be making the decision? Who will advise those about to die of the full implications? If any money at all is involved then how far will Mortimer’s Law apply, “Where there’s a will there’s a way”? The figures mooted at present are suggested to be small and only really the very difficult cases. But only it would take only a slight shift of the margins of decisions to send the actual figures much higher up the curve.

If your nearest and dearest start going on about how they need a special holiday or a wonderful Christmas to remember, or a new car, or how they are troubled by heavy debts incurred in their lifestyle, and then offer to help with the medication, go out and spend every penny you can and make a new will leaving what is left to the donkey sanctuary. That will teach them!

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