Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Tony Nicklinson takes the control he was denied by a cruel and outdated legal system.

This morning, Right-to-Die campaigner Tony Nicklinson died less than a week after losing his challenge to the UK's existing law.  He sought to make sure that any doctor willing to assist him in ending his own life - an act he couldn't perform without assistance - would not face prosecution for murder for doing so.  His plea was denied on the grounds that the court was worried about setting a "dangerous precedent" for future cases.

Within hours of the verdict's being announced, Tony's wife Jane established a petition on; that can be found here:

Now here's something else that I almost didn't post; it felt almost indecent to watch this at the time the appeal was denied, and in a way it feels even more so now.  But this is a case that's all about people valuing legal familiarity and moral tradition over compassion; it's important that people know exactly how this decision affects real people.  This was the reaction of Tony and his wife when they heard the news (warning; I still can't watch this without being very upset. It is not pleasant viewing. But it's necessary.):

It is a mystery to me how anyone can watch this poor man's reaction to the outcome of his case and NOT feel utterly, utterly gutted for him.

This morning's news puts the above into a new light for me, too.  When I first watched this footage, I saw a man realising he now has no choice but to continue with a miserable, blighted existence, unable to escape from it without risking another person's freedom.  NOW when I watch it, I see a man realising that he has no resort but to commit slow, painful suicide by the only means at his disposal - by starving himself.

The Guardian and others report that Tony refused food after the verdict was delivered, and that as he weakened he succumbed to pneumonia, which finally killed him.

I am glad for Tony, happy for him that his misery is over.  I'm angry and sad that the end had to come about as it did.  Tony's decision to take his own life in the only way left to him is proof of the futility - leaving aside for a moment the cruelty and cowardice - in denying him his right to die. By handing down the verdict they did, all the court ensured was that Tony's death would not be painless and dignified but would be protracted, painful and miserable.  And although one feels desperately sorry for Tony, one can't help feeling almost worse for his family, who had to watch him suffer so terribly.

Follow up: While I've been writing this, I've been having a discussion on Twitter with some chaplain up North somewhere who (obviously) thinks the law's fine as it is.  It went on for a while and we reached a point where everyone in the world was allowed an opinion on a person's request to die (as long as they were against it, obviously) EXCEPT the person whose life was in question, but this tweet sums it up for me (spelling etc. corrected): "Desperately sad, but he effectively took his own life by refusing food and treatment. Law need not be changed, nor should it be."

There are people so ideologically opposed to compassionately ending suffering that they consider forcing someone to starve himself to death is better - and even then, it's a fair bet that even THAT's only because they can't stop it. I'll leave that one with you. I'm not sure what's going to happen to the petition now since it was specific to Tony, but if anyone knows of a more general one to change the law please tell me in the comments!

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