Assisted Suicide - Euthanasia, Choosing Death.
We all have our own personal views on “euthanasia” or “assisted suicide” and before I go on to give my opinion I firstly would like to point out that I acknowledge and respect everyone’s personal thoughts and views on such a delicate matter. I am not writing this piece to profess that my views are correct; I am merely attempting to point out factors that have swung my thoughts.
On Monday night (13th June 2011), the BBC broadcast a film hosted by Sir Terry Pratchett, called “Choosing to Die”; I watched this film with great interest unsure as to whether or not it would change my views relating to assisted suicide. In my opinion, the main subject of this programme was Peter Smedley, a 71-year-old hotelier from Guernsey who chose to end his life after being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, a devastating muscle wasting disease with no known cure. Last December, Mr Smedley travelled to the Dignitas Clinic in Switzerland, a clinic where over 1100 people from all over Europe have legally been assisted to die. Mr Smedley was vetted by a Dignitas doctor to ensure that he was of sound mind and that he knew exactly what he was about to do, on getting the go ahead, Mr Smedley chose to continue with the procedure.
People of Switzerland who opt for this assisted suicide, are visited at their home to be given the assistance, foreigners, such as Mr Smedley were taken to a specially prepared building which looked to be on an industrial estate. The building, surrounded by nice gardens, seemed comfortable with couches and beds for the comfort of the patient and any family wishing to be present at the fatal time.
The procedure involved taking two drinks, and on offering each drink, the assistant asked Mr Smedley several times if he was sure that he wanted to continue. The first drink, I think, was to put a lining on the stomach, because if the second (the actual fatal dose of barbiturates) were taken without the first, then the stomach would react by rejection causing the patient to throw up.
Mr Smedley took both drinks and inevitably died. It was very sad to watch a man die in such a way with his wife Christine and the assistant comforting him, though his death was painless and quick.
Digressing from this film I am about to put forward my own personal experiences relating to my father.
My father spent the last 3 years of his life in nursing homes because my mother and the rest of our family couldn’t manage him. He had Alzheimer’s Disease.
About 5 years ago my father began to change, slowly at first, but as time moved on, so did the rate of his deterioration. First symptoms were simply that he repeated things over and over again, and he would get angry when we said to him that he had already said that; he would forget things almost instantly, like going to the shop and returning with nothing because he couldn’t remember what he had gone for.
Several times my father ran away, several times my father threatened to kill himself. We did manage to get him to seek medical advice, and to cut this part short he was eventually diagnosed with Dementia/Alzheimer’s Disease. We determined that the running away and the death threats were in fact “reasonable behaviour” meaning that at these times he was in a state of reasonable thought and he knew that something was wrong and wanted to put an end to it.
During our fathers time in nursing homes he became angry and violent, totally unlike the man we all knew. He also became double incontinent, his dignity was gone!
My father suffered, my mother suffered, our whole family suffered through the years of coping with Alzheimer’s. Eventually, only last month, father died, a slow, long, undignified death. Again, this was very sad to watch.
So, the outcome either way is death… either with dignity or without dignity?
Moving back now, to Mr Smedley’s story. Mr Smedley decided on assisted suicide last December, prior to this, I recall him stating in the film, that he had recently had a bad fall and couldn’t get back up, all due to his Motor Neurone Disease. Mr Smedley chose to die in December because he feared that had he chosen a later date that he may not have been capable of getting over to Switzerland. Had Mr Smedley been given the option to be assisted to die in his own home, then Mr Smedley would have waited longer and therefore had more time with his wife and family.
So which is best? Choosing ones own time to die with dignity or waiting for a natural and possibly undignified death?
Mr Smedley was a very brave man, for making such a decision and following it through, and for allowing his death to be filmed. I totally respect his decision and I think the option of assisted suicide should be made available. Obviously rules and regulations need to be put into place as a safeguard.
Open to opinions from any point of view… Thanks!
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