Colby Cosh discusses the latest Swiss innovation to come to the tabloid newspapers’ attention:
Five or six times I must have read the story about the relatively healthy little old English lady who killed herself rather than struggle on through the “digital age”, and I still cannot quite think what to make of it. Surely there is something noble about leaving life on what are as nearly as possible one’s own terms, with some strength left, after a full, long, largely happy existence.
Unlike a lot of self-described “environmentalists”, she clearly believed the Malthusian script and took the recommended action: “The environmentalist was also worried about the damage being wrought on the planet by overcrowding and pollution.” If she was that worried about poor old Mother Earth, one might wonder why she took so long to take her leave of it.
I suppose Dignitas does its best to make sure oldies aren’t being urged to suicide by impatient heirs, but surely there is only so much the staff can do, and it is in their interest to do as little as possible. It is certainly easy to imagine ethically dubious ways of encouraging the irritability of a cranky, inconvenient old person. Oo, hardly worth the trouble of gettin’ out of bed in the morning, is it, gran? Oh, dear, are your lungs givin’ you a hard time again? Tsk, must make you want to chuck it all in sometimes. If you are a person of British descent, you take in a certain amount of this glum, boggy attitude with every meal anyway. It comes naturally.
And there is my only real concern about institutionalizing the right to die … that it will encourage a certain haste: not among the elderly or afflicted, but among their caregivers, descendents, and prospective legatees. I think you should have the right to decide when to die, but it is a situation that offers the unscrupulous and unprincipled a quicker route to impose their desires on others.
But who is ready to have the government issue packets of Nembutal every five years with Canada Pension Plan cheques? Whatever solution we decide on for the convenience of the legitimately ailing or hopeless, I want the doctors — who, after all, belong to a profession that cannot seem to stop prescribing useless antibiotics for upper respiratory infections — to have as little to do with it as possible. Physicians are not saints, and they will follow the “easier for me” heuristic, like other primates, if non-negotiable aspects of their duty are thrown open to fiddling. “Do no harm” has been at the top of the list for 2,400 years, and, please, keep in mind, it took them 2,200 of those to give up therapeutic bloodletting.