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The right to life? How about the right to die?

“Well, let’s take what people think is a dignified death. Jesus Christ, was that a dignified death? Do you think it’s dignified to hang from wood with nails through your hands and feet bleeding, hang for three or four days slowly dying, with people jabbing spears into your side, and people jeering you? Do you think that’s dignified? Not by a long shot. Had Christ died in my van with people around Him who loved Him, the way it was, it would be far more dignified. In my rusty van.”

-Dr. Jack Kevorkian, July 29, 1996

Think of the person or people you love the most in the world. Now think of them suffering from a terminal illness or an insufferable disease or pain that renders their quality of life obsolete. There are a countless number of people worldwide who have no quality of life or can’t bear the thought of another day in an inescapable prison of pain. I ask you, nay I implore you, to ask yourself what would you do to alleviate your loved ones as they deteriorate before your very eyes?

If they wished to avail of a service that would grant them relief from this torture, you would consider employing that service, would you not? Well it’s not available unless you live in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Oregon or Washington. That leaves roughly 190 other countries in the world where the person in question will almost certainly have to die an undignified death, suffering and in pain.

Euthanasia is a very contentious and controversial topic. It usually involves debates between liberals and religious fanatics. What brought the issue at hand to my attention was the poignant and moving HBO film You Don’t Know Jack. A film about Dr. Jack Kevorkian or Dr. Death as he was “affectionately known”, it portrayed a period in his life where he was known for the service he provided to very sick people. He provided a way out for the terminally ill. He provided a way out and an end to endless pain for those who could not see a reason to live anymore. Their quality of life almost or on the brink of being extinguished. Their candle that burned so brightly once, almost down to the wick. He was persecuted, ridiculed and branded a murderer. When all it appeared he wanted to do was help people.

Throughout the film you see time and again cases of people who have no quality of life left. Who have no reason left to live. People afflicted with disease such as cancer, motor neurone disease and MS. Debilitating diseases that leave these people in excruciating pain 24/7. In this country we cannot provide a way out because it would be murder if we were to avail of an assisted suicide service. Under the Criminal Law Suicide Act it is an offence to aid, abet, counsel or procure the suicide of another person to commit suicide. Or else face a penalty of up to 14 years in prison. The only other way is to voluntarily refuse medication or treatment and almost certainly die a painful undignified death.The concern is the current legal stance could result in people travelling abroad, while they are physically still able to do so, to avail of a euthanasia service before they feel they are ready to die.

The closest alternative is probably palliative care which allows the person to die a dignified death surrounded by their loved ones. However, the argument is, the person in question cannot die on their own terms. They may want to be remembered as they were, not as a shadow of their former selves. Not possible. Not fair, I say. The right to life and human rights are paramount in every human rights doctrine and constitution universally. However the right to die is almost non- existent in every one of these doctrines.

A person’s autonomy is a basic human right. It is accepted that as an expression of a person’s autonomy they can refuse medical treatment even if it will result in imminent death. However for some reason or another there is widespread condemnation of the notion of euthanasia. Euthanasia allows the terminally ill to die with dignity and without pain. Individuals should be able to choose a time and place where they wish to die peacefully. Surely it violates human rights to force people to carry on living against their own wishes. Surely it is immoral to compel people to carry on living in unbearable pain and suffering.

It would of course be vital to implement prudent and strict legislation. Examinations would have to take place with perhaps three to four mental and physical examinations taking place over a period of a year or eighteen months on the patient in question. Every precaution would have to be taken but at the end of it all, if the candidate is legitimate, the right to die should be available.

The question shall be put to you again. Think of the person or people you love the most in this world. Now think of them suffering from a terminal illness or an insufferable, unbearable, agonising disease. What would you want for them? Surely you would want the option to relieve them of their suffering? Surely euthanasia should be an available option? The passage from life to death should be serene and dignified, not an agonising ordeal.

“Many are needlessly condemned to suffering by the chief anti-euthanasia argument: that murder might lurk under the cloak of kindness.” – A.C Grayling, Guardian 2001

Written by: John Fagan

Proofed by: Dara O’Conor

Uploaded by: Emma Duggan


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