Death is not a solution to the problems of living

spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London), on voluntary euthanasia for the depressed.

Mick Hume

Mick Hume

Topics Politics

Feeling depressed? Your troubles could soon be over. A Swiss clinic now offers a guaranteed cure for depression: sudden death.

A Bedfordshire inquest heard last week how Robert and Jennifer Stokes, both in their fifties, were helped to commit suicide last year at a Swiss euthanasia clinic run by the charity Dignitas. Neither of them was terminally ill. Both had chronic medical problems and a history of depression, but had repeatedly declined treatment.

At their inquest, the couple were described as ‘attention-seeking’. Their son said in a statement that his parents had used their medical conditions to seek pity. ‘I considered them both to be mentally ill. The only terminal illness they had was in their heads.’ The Stokes were devout Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused blood transfusions, yet broke their church’s taboo on suicide; attention-seekers who had attempted suicide several times – often seen more as a cry for help than a serious death-wish. They were obviously disturbed and in need of help. What they found was a helping hand holding a cupful of lethal barbiturates.

The campaign to legalise voluntary euthanasia is gathering momentum worldwide, especially in Europe where it is now legal in the Netherlands and Belgium. In Britain, a parliamentary Bill to follow suit was introduced last year, the Liberal Democrat conference supports legalisation, and so do public opinion polls. The international movement to legitimise euthanasia helped to bring the Stokes to their unnecessary end, by popularising the idea that assisting people to kill themselves is an act of public charity.

Respectable pro-euthanasia campaigns were quick to distance themselves from Dignitas. They argue that this cowboy operation can appeal to British people only because voluntary euthanasia is illegal here, and insist that they would only advocate assisted suicide for the terminally ill.

But once euthanasia is legitimised it becomes hard to deny any request. Campaigners demand ‘the right to die’ as a ‘freedom’ that will ’empower’ patients. If euthanasia is seen as a question of individual rights, then where do you draw the line? How can you allow a human right to some but deny it to others? Who can say whether or not an individual is facing, as Dutch law insists they must be, ‘unbearable, interminable suffering’?

Everybody knows that doctors take humane measures to hasten death at the end. And we accept that individuals already are ‘free’ to die, since nobody can prevent or punish a determined suicide. But asking the Government and judges to endorse voluntary euthanasia is another matter. This is not only about the individuals involved. It is about the attitude that our society takes to the value of human life. However desperate some may feel, we should not give official approval to the notion that death is a solution to the problems of living.

There is no need for scaremongering about ‘Nazi-style eugenics’ in order to see what can happen once it becomes respectable to view some lives as worth less than others. In Belgium, no sooner had they legalised adult euthanasia than a debate started on extending it to children. In France last year a nurse convicted of murdering six terminally ill patients received only ten years in jail, after claiming that she had wanted to end their suffering. A nursing sister in Cheshire has just been convicted of trying to kill four elderly patients in order to free hospital beds. ‘Why delay the inevitable?; she said.

The Derbyshire coroner wants a public inquiry into what he suspects could be the first case of forced ‘mass euthanasia’, after claims that 11 hospital patients were starved to death.

And now euthanasia has become a fashionable cause among the young and fit. (Polls suggest that it is rather less popular with the elderly.) There are macabre websites with names such as LibertyNow, a Good Euthanasia Guide 2004 (what next – the Rough Guide?) and an American goth-rock band, called Hell on Earth, has vowed to ‘raise awareness of the right-to-die issue’ by carrying out an assisted suicide on stage.

Have we become so nihilistic that the difference between life and death can be reduced to simply another lifestyle choice? You do not need to support the reactionary ‘pro-life’ lobby in order to take a stand against this morbid defeatism. We should make it clear that as a society we do not want to assist suicide or endorse euthanasia, and we do not accept that living is a barrier to liberty, or that depression is a cause of death. No doubt it will upset some distressed individuals. But that’s life.

This article is republished from The Times (London)

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


Want to join the conversation?

Only spiked supporters and patrons, who donate regularly to us, can comment on our articles.

Join today