Saturday, August 15, 2009

Terry Waite on Assisted Dying

Terry Waite is a name familiar to all of us. He spent five years as a hostage in Lebanon, chained and blindfolded in a cell, much of the time in solitary confinement. His autobiography Taken on Trust documents his mental and spiritual battles to overcome the temptation to anger, self-pity and despair that haunted him during his long ordeal.

Writing in a British newspaper, he talks about facing unbearable suffering and the desire to die in the context of the current euthanasia debate. He makes a valid and unfashionable point about the extent to which assisted suicide preys upon our natural fear of suffering.

The claim that assisted suicide promotes dignity in dying also ignores the reality that palliative care has advanced enormously in recent years. The natural end of a life is now far more pain-free and dignified than ever before - contrary to the propaganda presented by the euthanasia lobby.

Indeed, a fascinating study conducted in the U.S recently showed that half of all people favoured assisted suicide - until they understood how effective palliative care could be. At that point, the figure dropped to just a fifth.

At its core, the desire to legalise assisted suicide betrays a terror of suffering and death, a determination to sanitise our lives.

Yet we cannot simply regulate pain and sorrow out of our experience.

They are an essential part of the human condition. The belief that all lives should be ended the moment they descend into physical and mental anguish is dangerously Utopian and childish.