Ultimate right: to avoid a painful death

Martin Hanson

COLUMN

In my letter (April 5), I reissued a challenge to those campaigners against David Seymour’s End of Life Choice bill who try to keep their religious motives unseen. Referring to a lady suffering from a terminal brain disease who chose to starve herself to death rather than endure the suffering she expected, I put the following question:

“It would be interesting to know the reaction of opponents of the End of Life Choice bill to the predicament of the letter writer’s partner. Specifically, while the writer’s partner clearly had the legal right to die in this way, to press the point further, did she have a moral right to take her own life?” My question was specifically worded to bring hidden, religious motives into the open. I noted that the answer would be revealing, and a refusal to answer even more so.

And true to form, Ms Joubert devoted over 300 words to avoiding my question and thus, to the perceptive reader, unintentionally answering it.

In her efforts to avoid answering the question she seemed to forget the First Rule of Holes: when you’re in one, it’s best to stop digging. But she continued to dig, by making some extraordinary statements.

1. She appears to pass judgement on the decision of the “jumpers” who leapt to their deaths on September 11, 2001 thus avoiding a very unpleasant death. She says in her second paragraph:

“Death inside the building might have been the gentler option as people would probably have lost consciousness from smoke inhalation before the fire got to them.”

This is a staggering statement; how she feels competent to judge those poor people’s actions from the comfort of her armchair beggars belief. That she thinks that death by smoke inhalation “might have been a gentler option” is in itself highly revealing and tells readers more about Ms Joubert’s thought processes than the actions of those people in response to their predicament.

2. While she is correct when she says that palliative care can enable people to avoid the worst ravages of terminal illness, she conveniently ignores the fact that for a small minority of terminally ill people, palliative care cannot relieve pain. For such people, the right to avoid a painful death should be regarded as the ultimate human right.

3. Her final paragraph is a masterpiece of evasion:

“If instead this person would have addressed the underlying psychological and existential reasons for wanting to die early, might they have changed their mind about wanting to end their life? Might they have enjoyed the rest of their life despite their disabilities and died a comfortable natural death? We’ll never know.”

The last thing any humane, empathetic person would expect of a terminally ill person is to embark on a philosophical exploration, thinking about the “psychological and existential” reasons for wanting to die early. Perhaps, like any normal person, she just wanted the whole thing to be over.

In my letter (April 5), I reissued a challenge to those campaigners against David Seymour’s End of Life Choice bill who try to keep their religious motives unseen. Referring to a lady suffering from a terminal brain disease who chose to starve herself to death rather than endure the suffering she expected, I put the following question:

“It would be interesting to know the reaction of opponents of the End of Life Choice bill to the predicament of the letter writer’s partner. Specifically, while the writer’s partner clearly had the legal right to die in this way, to press the point further, did she have a moral right to take her own life?” My question was specifically worded to bring hidden, religious motives into the open. I noted that the answer would be revealing, and a refusal to answer even more so.

And true to form, Ms Joubert devoted over 300 words to avoiding my question and thus, to the perceptive reader, unintentionally answering it.

In her efforts to avoid answering the question she seemed to forget the First Rule of Holes: when you’re in one, it’s best to stop digging. But she continued to dig, by making some extraordinary statements.

1. She appears to pass judgement on the decision of the “jumpers” who leapt to their deaths on September 11, 2001 thus avoiding a very unpleasant death. She says in her second paragraph:

“Death inside the building might have been the gentler option as people would probably have lost consciousness from smoke inhalation before the fire got to them.”

This is a staggering statement; how she feels competent to judge those poor people’s actions from the comfort of her armchair beggars belief. That she thinks that death by smoke inhalation “might have been a gentler option” is in itself highly revealing and tells readers more about Ms Joubert’s thought processes than the actions of those people in response to their predicament.

2. While she is correct when she says that palliative care can enable people to avoid the worst ravages of terminal illness, she conveniently ignores the fact that for a small minority of terminally ill people, palliative care cannot relieve pain. For such people, the right to avoid a painful death should be regarded as the ultimate human right.

3. Her final paragraph is a masterpiece of evasion:

“If instead this person would have addressed the underlying psychological and existential reasons for wanting to die early, might they have changed their mind about wanting to end their life? Might they have enjoyed the rest of their life despite their disabilities and died a comfortable natural death? We’ll never know.”

The last thing any humane, empathetic person would expect of a terminally ill person is to embark on a philosophical exploration, thinking about the “psychological and existential” reasons for wanting to die early. Perhaps, like any normal person, she just wanted the whole thing to be over.

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