Count me amongst those who are profoundly skeptical about the notion that it is “self-evident” that we come into this world endowed with a large collection of supposedly inalienable “rights”. I do not, for example, believe that there is such thing as a built-in right to die. That said, it ought to be beyond dispute that any society that wishes to call itself civilized should bestow such a right (with appropriate safeguards) on those who live within it.
The tragic fate of Martin, a British victim of the stuff of nightmares that is locked-in syndrome is a case in point.
The Daily Telegraph takes up the story here:
The man, known for legal reasons only as Martin, suffered a severe stroke three years ago, which left him unable to move. His only method of communication is by using his eyes. In a highly unusual case, he wants to clarify the law so that medical staff or solicitors who help him to end his life will not be prosecuted. Assisting a suicide carries a potential 14-year jail sentence. By staring at letters on a computer screen, from his hospital bed in the converted garage at his home, Martin can slowly form words, and has written a statement to the court asking the judges to help him. In his court statement, extracts of which have been seen by The Daily Telegraph, Martin said his life was “undignified, distressing and intolerable”.
“It is extremely important to me that I feel able to control when and how I die,” he said. “As is no doubt appreciated, almost every other aspect of my life is now out of my control and I want, at least, to be able to control my death.
I am clear that I no longer wish to continue to live and hope that people can respect this wish and now allow me to die. I want it over with without delay.”
Martin wants support from professionals to die either by refusing his food and drink, or by helping him to travel to the Dignitas suicide clinic in Switzerland. Previous legal battles in assisted dying cases have involved close family members who were willing to help their loved ones to die. However, Martin’s wife, known as Felicity, respects her husband’s wishes but does not want to play any part in hastening his death. She said she did not want her husband to die…
Last year, the director of public prosecutions issued new guidelines on assisted suicide, which stated that family members who are clearly motivated by compassion to help a loved one to die would be less likely to face a criminal trial. Martin’s lawyers, Leigh Day & Co, will ask the High Court to afford the same protection to doctors and legal staff, who would potentially also face disciplinary action from their professional bodies.
The case is expected to begin next month.
That Martin is forced to beg for his release is a disgrace. That the form of that release (if it is granted) can only come from either an arduous trip abroad or death by starvation is revolting. But if British law (or, if necessary its lawmakers) cannot find room to permit even painfully modest requests of the type that Martin is making, it will prove nothing other than a willingness to permit terrible suffering in the name of abstract and dubious principle. That’s not a distinction that Britain, or any other country, should want.