Just because a celebrity (in this case, the much loved and respected, Dame Esther Rantzen) is in favour of a controversial idea, (in this case, regarding assisted dying), it doesn’t always follow that others, with differing views, are on the ‘wrong’ side.

By Tom Jamison

A report by the Health and Social Care Committee, who looked at countries where assisted dying for people who are terminally ill is legal, suggests that it has led to better end-of-life care. This among other factors, encouraged Dame Esther (who has stage four cancer) to state that there is no “slippery slope” when it comes to the impact on palliative care and that MPs should be given the opportunity to debate and vote on the issue of assisted dying.

The odd thing about the assisted dying debate is that both sides are clearly right. 

There is a moral code that says that ‘suffering’ should be, in some ways, regarded as torture – and avoided at all costs. There is also a moral authority that says that life is sacred and must be respected and protected. 

If you hadn’t noticed, we live in a largely non-disabled world. Fears over a lack of agency don’t trouble the likes of those that make the laws. However, fears based on a denial of voice, are very real for disabled people. After all, these are the same disabled people who survived the coronavirus pandemic, while others were subject to inappropriate ‘do not resuscitate notices’ hung on their hospital beds. Indeed, there’s no ‘slippery slope’ for those with means or access to national broadcast media!

At times like this, there’s a feeling that the debate takes a darker turn, towards ‘what is worth saving?’ A red line must surely exist where all people are valued equally as unique treasures, worthy of every breathless effort bestowed on them. Without this, it’s too easy to focus on the moral responsibility to ensure comfort and dignity, at the expense of the universal right to choose to live life to its natural end, irrespective of the challenges. The hard-won phrase of disability civil rights, ‘Nothing about us, without us’ must be heard aloud, even in cases where the word ‘terminal’ applies. It’s necessary to remember that life is always a ‘terminal’ contract.

Dying is a grey area. Who can tell the different between ‘hanging on’ and ‘slipping away’? It’s equally difficult at times to state categorically if a person is capable of consent – and if so, is that consent an expression of genuine personal choice, rather than social coercion?

In a sense, this analysis is a mere preamble. Although there are people in pain today, this is hopefully, a question for tomorrow – and a somewhat different one at that; since with research, effort and maybe a bit of luck, ‘all things being (at least, slightly more) equal’ will prevail. In shorter words, why isn’t the debate along the lines of helping people to ‘live’ their final days in relative comfort and improved dignity, rather than smothering the discussion in an unhelpful veil of guilt?