The neglected right: the one to die

By George Cook

The ability to live a happy and fulfilled life is an ambition that all aspire to achieve. Many hope of getting that dream job, of travelling the world and falling in love. Others want to seize every opportunity they can and not take things too seriously. The experiences of life are thrilling and challenging, but also heart-warming. It is always great to see people making the most of the life they have been granted, however long or short that may be.

Yet, sometimes such a life that we dream of doesn’t materialise. Sometimes illness gets in the way. Whether that be motor neurone disease, Alzheimer’s or cancer, our capabilities in life can become extremely limited, leaving many feeling impaired and depressed. After leading a more energetic and prosperous life prior to their diagnosis, many people often find it difficult to come to terms with the fact that their life will never be the same again, and that it will drastically deteriorate. Not only is it troublesome for them personally, but it is also for their families, who don’t want to see their loved ones morph into some kind of dishevelled shell of their previous personality.

This leads some to consider the possibility of choosing the moment at which they will die, before the illness gets too advanced and serious. Such a service is already offered in Switzerland, and a few Britons have travelled over to begin the process of a controlled death. However, in Britain we do not have the right to decide when we will die. Those who have a terminal disease have long fought for the right to die in numerous court cases, with the most recent being rejected last week in the instance of Noel Conway, who has motor neurone disease. He did this because the dreadful disease is one that attacks every muscle in the body, which in the end will effectively reduce him to nothing but a breathing body without the ability to walk, talk and more generally communicate with others.

Who would want to be degraded into inhabiting a state of almost complete helplessness and vulnerability? Being incapable of literally doing anything but breath is a situation I find hard to comprehend and that I would not wish upon anyone. I would not want to force my loved ones to endure the arduous process of caring for me if I was in that condition. Furthermore, I would want to be remembered as the person I was before the illness. Being forced into someone who can’t eat or drink, who can’t do the things they are passionate about, and who doesn’t even recognise the ones they love is a scenario I wish to avoid at all costs. The shadow that the disease would cast over my life and memory would be a complete denial over who I was before. It would almost render it worthless.

Right to Die. Source: alberto.biscalchin (Via Flickr)

Those who possess the ability to make the decision over when they will die should be ultimately awarded the right to do so. Whilst we should not coerce people into feeling like they should have to follow this route, the value of being able to control your own life and not be held hostage to a debilitating disease should be placed on a higher pedestal.

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