Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Lucia Euthanasia and Rodney Hide

Rodney Hide is writing about the legalisation of suicide again, where another person can help you die if you don't feel your life is worth living anymore. He uses the story of his friend Martin, who tried to kill himself when he found out he had Huntington's disease.

Martin’s mother had died of Huntington’s disease. Her truly dreadful death took years. In the final stages of Huntington’s the mind loses its ability to control even the simplest movements – even swallowing is difficult and many sufferers die choking.

So, at 19 years old, Martin learned he had a 50 per cent chance of suffering the disease. He decided not to marry. Or have children. The risk was too great. And in his 40th year he got the fateful diagnosis.

We knew what he was planning. But the law forbade us helping or even knowing.

He put his affairs in order. On his own, one night at home, alone, he pinned a note to his new pyjama top: “Huntington’s disease: Please Do Not Resuscitate”. He attempted a massive overdose. But poor Martin. He didn’t get all the pills down.

Reading the story again, I am now struck by the line, "We knew what he was planning."

When I've had friends whom I knew were planning to kill themselves, I did everything I could to help them find the courage and the will to live again. Everything. I don't understand this passive acceptance of another person's desire to die when their life is still worth living. Where were his friends at this point of his life?

His neighbour found him. Martin regained consciousness in Wellington Hospital. The circulation had stopped to his legs and the doctors wanted to amputate.

Martin asked what would happen if they didn’t cut his legs off. “You will die”.

“Good,” replied Martin, “I have Huntington’s disease.”

I have an autistic brother that is in care and will never experience the type of life that Martin was able to lead. He's in his forties now, and will most likely live for another forty years, unable to speak, having to be looked after, and never in real control of his life. He doesn't have Huntington's disease, he has something far worse. Yet, rather than living in fear of what might come, he lives day to day, making the most of his life as best he can. As we all do.

Martin Hames died peacefully in his sleep in the early hours of the next morning. His dad was there. He died happy and he died content.

Martin had every right to take his own life. He also had every right to ask for help. But to give that help is against the law.

Martin feared he would slip into madness or lose control before he killed himself and be sentenced to years of suffering that would be hateful to him.

Maryan Street’s End of Life Choice Bill, now before Parliament, would have enabled Martin to plan his death better. He would not have needed to rush to it.

He and I joked one last time. Then he was serious. He said if I wanted to do something in his memory it would be to change our law so no one else had to go through what he had had to go through. He said, “Boss, change it, change it for all the others.”

I told him I would do my very best.

This column’s not as good as you could write, Martin. But it’s my best. And it’s for you.

Right. Do Martin and Rodney want the law changed so that my brother can be killed as well? And who would decide if his life was unbearable?

I'll say again what I said on Kiwiblog yesterday, suicide is essentially a selfish act. Extending that suicide to requiring others to help with it is another level of selfishness again, where the person wanting to die compounds the evil done by requiring others to participate in it, thus changing them forever.

Rodney Hide doesn't need to get the law changed so that no one else has to go through what Martin went through. He just has to be upfront and say that he failed his friend when he needed him, when his friend was planning to kill himself and Rodney did nothing.

We are all going to die, and the idea of death for many people is terrifying. But creating a society where a person can be terminated on request will change all of us, and not for the better.

Related links : Rodney on Euthanasia – his full column

17 comment(s):

Chris Sullivan said...

I know people with potentially terminal medical conditions.

It is the worst possible thing to encourage such people to take their lives.

Often the risk is only POTENTIAL. Medical disgnosis is not infallible. Anyone one of us could be run over by a bus tomorrow and suffer a painful and lingering death too.

Life is worth living and supporting and preserving.

God Bless

LiberalLeftie said...

Where's your degree in medicine to back up that claim that autism is worse than Huntingtons? If someone with a terminal illness wants to end their life on their own terms, and others want to assist, the state should have no place to prevent it

Jeremy Harris said...

Life itself is of infinite value. I want to live in a state where this is recognised, even if it means life measured in painful months is protected, and even if it means that I might one day have a long painful exit in front of me.

Lucia Maria said...

Thanks, Chris and Jeremy.

LiberalLeftie, my brother has never had a job, or lived alone or had friends. He hasn't spoken since he was three years old. At least someone with Huntington's, such as the man that Rodney Hide wrote about had a life that most people would consider worth living.

Also, we are all terminal, we will all die. Euthanasia is never limited to the terminal, it always expands.

Big Bruv said...
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Andrei said...

Maybe Big Bruv the time of your dying presents an opportunity to repent and therefore to avoid eternal suffering.

We are all gonna die and we are all going to face the judgement

Big Bruv said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
KG said...

"Martin had every right to take his own life."

Is something I absolutely, passionately agree with. Our lives are ours and the decision to either live or die is ours also.
Real compassion - in my view - is having the courage to recognise that we cannot possibly know what the person concerned is going through and we have an obligation to respect their choice.
Interfering in other people's lives may give some a warm glow of righteousness but I believe it's actually a deeply immoral thing to do. Especially when it condemns some poor soul to more years of a living hell.

KG said...

"I'll say again what I said on Kiwiblog yesterday, suicide is essentially a selfish act."
Captain Oates, anyone?

Andrei said...

Is something I absolutely, passionately agree with. Our lives are ours and the decision to either live or die is ours also.

Indeed KG - everybody does have the right to take their own life and when it comes down to it there is not much we can do to stop someone determined to so do.

Our choice for which we will wear the consequences.

There is a difference between that and demanding someone else do the deed.

These things start with the best of intentions and sold with sad stories but then mission creep occurs and as they say nek minnit.

This is what happened with abortion of course and we have ended up killing a quarter of a generation - hell we kill more babies every year than soldiers died during the entire course of WW2.

You don't have to be Einstein to figure where "voluntary" euthanasia will take us within a few years

KG said...

I have no argument about the voluntary euthanasia debate, Andrei, other than to say there is no single position which covers all possibilities. It's a slippery slope and there's plenty of evidence already from the Netherlands that the bar will be progressively lowered.
But personal, unassisted suicide is another thing entirely, and it's those comments of Lucia Maria's I take issue with.
There are plenty of historical examples of people who effectively committed suicide in order to save their friend and I'm minded of "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
John 15:13
Not all suicides are selfish.

Ciaron said...

Just my two cents, but I would never catergorize a selfless act of sacrifice as suicide... To my way of thinking they are mutually exclusive; the sacrifical act is, I think, motivated by the benefit of others while the typically reported suicide seems to be purely selfish, (I accept this is a broad generalisation, based solely on random newspaper reports that I have stumbled over)

KG said...

"...while the typically reported suicide seems to be purely selfish."
Perhaps. Maybe. Who knows what's in a person's heart and mind at a time like that?
Which makes the statement "suicide is essentially a selfish act.." so broad and general as to be practically meaningless. And it has the whiff of arrogance about it too.
And newspaper reports are all too often superficial and uninformed in any case.
You may choose to regard a selfless act of sacrifice as something other than suicide but that's simply your choice, Ciaron and not necessarily the reality of a particular case at a particular time. The 'selfless act' may well be an opportunity for the person concerned to do what he or she might have done in any case.
There are too many variations, too many complex histories and motivations for the statement that "suicide is a selfish act" to be anything other than a lazy generalisation.

Lucia Maria said...


Giving your life for another in an act of sacrifice is not suicide. When I talk about suicide, I mean that you take your life or ask another to do it for you because you want to die at that point. That is selfish. Having had a best friend kill herself having no regard for how her death would affect anyone else (her family and her friends), I'm not going to change my mind on this. I can imagine she was in a terrible place herself to actually get to this point, but love for others should have stopped her. The problems people get themselves into today are exacerbated because they think too much about themselves and not enough about everyone else - that is the definition of selfishness.

Lucia Maria said...

People have the right to be selfish, I'm not saying that don't. The problem with selfishness, like all the vices, is that they prevent a person from being happy.

KG said...

"Giving your life for another in an act of sacrifice is not suicide."
But it can be and has been, LM. It can present an opportunity to someone who values their life but little, to depart in a useful, honourable way , rather than in a pool of vomit in some anonymous hotel room.
It's a well-known phenomenon among ex-military people who sign up for "private" work.
Which is why I detest the "suicide is selfish" generalisation.

Lucia Maria said...

Fair enough. :)

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