Four years ago the Assisted Dying Bill was voted down in Parliament. In a discussion printed in the Easter edition of the Spectator, Douglas Murray and Sam Leith look at the consequences of such a Bill and the effects it would have on society.
In the UK, dignityindying.org.uk supports the assisted dying bill. It stresses the difference between the law in Switzerland and the one they themselves want to see introduced in the UK.
They believe “assisted dying should be controlled by the dying person.” They want a law matching more closely to the US, where in Oregon for instance, the bill has remained unchanged since its inception in 1997, requiring “the dying person to end their own life and not permit another person to do it for them.”
I would have put myself firmly in the camp of Leith, before properly considering the article. I support individual liberty and less intervention from the state. But the arguments Murray made were particularly evocative. Supporting individual liberty appeals to me logically, but Murray’s protection of the sanctity of life made me feel like I was choosing between my head and my heart.
The only easy answer the article did provide me with – was who was the liberal and who was the conservative.
When Leith stated “I would feel it was a bloody cheek if I wanted to die and the state told me it was their business, not mine.” I felt a certain injustice.
The idea of knowing you’ve paid into the government; you’ve paid your taxes, you’ve been law-abiding, and yet you still can’t receive a relief that would send you on your way with peace and dignity, is an injustice for individual liberty. It does nothing but place power in the hands of the state. It’s a missed opportunity to assist a terminally ill person in being able to control the inevitability of their death. A means of handing power to the individual, especially if they have no other means of seeking the result they want due to socio-economic barriers.
However, this argument did seem less compelling after I’d considered the Sanctity of Life argument that Murray provides. Leith rightly argued that it “seems odd that an abstract concept of the sanctity of life is more important than the individual life itself” but then I felt a sense of resonance when Murray claimed. “Neither you nor I nor anyone else can fully guess what happens when a society that has generally run on the injunction [choose life] being significant decides there’s a parenthesis you can add to it.”
The strength of that statement strikes a chord. Especially in a modern world where the male suicide rate is so high and many claim younger generations are less stoic than their predecessors. It may be a perfectly obvious statement: but many people do not need the encouragement to give up.
The general consensus may be that things aren’t that great. And maybe they’re neither better nor worse than they have always been. But the difference is – the option to seek out an assisted death was never an option before.
If the option became available now (and even if it was only available to those who are terminally ill and pass all the necessary requirements) it could very seriously destabilise the foundation the choose life injuction has provided for us all these years. It may lead to deeper suffering and larger suicide statistics across all society. People may start to bridge the gap between knowing they have to carry on and see well actually, there’s legislation in place that shows me some people don’t have to at all. So why should I?
I can’t argue with Murray’s response to this aspect of the debate. I believe it would profoundly affect society: especially those struggling with mental health. It could undermine the encouragement we need to just keep going sometimes.
So if the bill were to be passed, I would hope I was wrong. I’d hold tight to the hope that the sanctity of life isn’t catastrophically altered and remain somewhat in favour of its passing: for the sake of individual liberty.
Last rights: A debate on Euthanasia by Douglas Murray and Sam Leith – The Spectator Easter Special 20th April 2019 p.22-p.24