Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Self-Indulgent Suffering and Attitudes Toward Assisted Suicide in Britain.

Clare Allen, who writes on mental health, has an article in today's Guardian about recent events in the assisted suicide movement in Britain, namely the court case won by Debbie Purdy and subsequent updates to the prosecutorial guidelines on assisted suicide:

While it strikes me that the choice of a rational adult to end their life must be theirs by right, and that the threat of prosecution for people who assist those who cannot act alone contravenes that right, the consequences of changing the law are potentially devastating, not only for those with mental health problems but for the mental health of society as a whole.

This is not an easy subject to discuss. It's a topic about which people feel strongly, and understandably so. Moreover, there is sometimes a sense that if you aren't suffering from a terminal illness, or caring for someone with terminal illness, or profoundly disabled, then you have no right to express a view at all. But the law on assisted suicide, and indeed on euthanasia, has the greatest possible impact on our attitude towards life itself, and no one is exempt from its implications. It is crucial that the psychological signal of any proposal to change the law be properly evaluated.

Regarding societal attitudes toward pain and suffering:

If we legalise euthanasia, we inevitably shift our attitude towards suffering. There's a sense in which pain becomes self-imposed, and even self-indulgent. Not only does this have profound implications for our willingness to fund palliative care and to provide for people who are disabled, but also for our perception of difference in general.

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