Noel Conway, a terminally ill campaigner who tried to overturn the ban on assisted dying died on June 9th at the age of 71, after choosing to have his ventilator removed. He had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND) in 2014, and latterly had been struggling with his speech and was no longer able to use his hands. Noel Conway’s wife, Carol, confirmed that he had died painlessly and peacefully, supported by his hospice team. ‘Noel was in control, which was so important,’ she said.
The argument made by Dignity with Dying is that assisted suicide will help terminally ill people who can’t find any release from suffering. But the fact is that palliative care means that people do not have to die in pain. Especially people with MND.
Several weeks’ ago, in a response on Facebook to a post by a supporter of assisted dying, a former vicar now living with MND said, ‘if I may comment as someone suffering with motor neuron disease the idea that I shall suffer when I die does not appeal to me. However, that is a mischievous myth peddled by the voluntary euthanasia lobby. To put the frighteners about dying on anyone suffering with MND is utterly irresponsible. We are not beyond the reach of palliative care.’
Each time the law is challenged, there is no mention of the unbearable pressure that making assisted dying legal would put on disabled and older people, who ‘do not want to be a burden.’ Neither do they mention the way it is exploited in other countries where it has been made legal.
The Scripture tells us that we are to be a voice for the voiceless, and to speak for justice. When Genevieve realised that the Sunday Times is a supporter of Dignity with Dying she wrote a letter to the editor saying she would not buy the newspaper again. She puts her case elegantly:
As the daughter of a mother with dementia, I am deeply troubled that your paper has thrown its support behind ‘Dying with Dignity’. In his article, A good life deserves a good death, AC Grayling confidently asserts that there will be no ‘slippery slope’ if the bill is introduced, and yet he declared the Bill “a good first step”. He also speaks of suicide as if it is a good thing, and something we should be supporting. And yet, anyone who has felt suicidal will know that what they need in those moments is not encouragement to take their own lives, but a response of care, love, and support to move through their despair and find hope in their suffering and meaning in their lives.
As the person with legal responsibility for my mother, I do not want to become a co-conspirator with her murder. Despite the soft and compassionate sound of the words of Dignity with Dying, there is nothing dignified in encouraging people to end their own lives. My mother has spoken to me on many occasions of ‘being a burden’ and ‘perhaps I should just die’, and yet her words to me during our last time together were, ‘I’m really happy’. I am grateful I live in a country where neither she is encouraged to think of her life as a ‘burden’, and to consider assisted dying as her ‘solution’.
Grayling speaks of people who consider life to have value as ‘cruel’, and suffering as if there is no solution for it but death. Life does have value and meaning. People should be able to have love and support as they become less able. I fear (as precedent in other countries has shown), if this Bill comes into law, those who are vulnerable will feel they can ask for nothing but their own death. We as a society should be looking to how we enable life to thrive at all its stages, not present assisted death as the illusion of choice.’
In an earlier blog, I described how a private bill to change the law was tabled by Baroness Meacher, Chair of Dignity in Dying. https://louisemorse.com/new-fight-to-change-law-on-assisted-suicide-this-week/. She stated then that we would be able to ‘lead happier lives in the knowledge that we will have some control over how we die.’ I’ve never heard anyone express that view.
We know, as believers, that our times are in God’s hands. Psalm 31:15. But let’s not forget to ask God to change the heart of those who believe a change in the law is necessary so that they can be in control of their dying. And speak out about the wrongness of it. And write letters like Genevieve’s to people who have influence.