Can it ever be right?
As the British House of Lords debates this contentious subject, I offer my own opinion. It raises more questions than gives answers but I have not ducked the primary question.
Is Assisted Suicide (AS) something politicians can legislate for? Is it something judges can rule on and, leaving the legal question aside; can it ever be morally right?
What might be the effect mentally on someone already under stress who has a friend, relative or a partner perhaps suffering at the limit of their endurance. Would someone in that situation be able to make a properly reasoned decision and live with it for the rest of their life? Is it ever right for one person to involve another in their suicide?
Can someone who has never faced the situation from either side be in a position make a judgement, when it is virtually certain they would not know how they would act or react before being placed, implicitly or explicitly in such a situation?
Could assisting suicide become, or be seen as, active participation? Where are the lines drawn between knowing inaction, assistance and killing, possibly in conspiracy?
Maybe a case could be made for AS for people with a terminal illness but who can say what is terminal in every case; doctors’ have been wrong, especially when estimating life expectancy. Life itself is terminal, it’s just a matter of time; who has the right to decide the right time?
Does suicide end suffering? Yes, for the person who dies but it creates suffering, to a greater or lesser degree, to someone else so AS might be a selfish act.
Medicine now often can preserve and prolong life. Where is the dividing line between merely preserving, and prolonging and is failure to prolong life the same as assisting its end?
As a Christian I would seek guidance from the Bible, but I fear it might not help much in this situation. The Bible never uses the word suicide, although there are a number of acts that can be described as such. In Judges 9: 54 Abimelech was killed by his armour bearer, rather than die at the hand of a woman; was this the first known assisted suicide? I’ve even come across an argument, to which I do not subscribe, that Jesus could have saved himself from crucifixion and therefore might be seen as having committed suicide.
Whilst the bible has little to say about suicide, it has plenty to say on the sanctity of life. Life is a gift from God and therefore only God has the right to take it away and the wisdom to know when it is right to do so.
Having raised so many questions but given so few answers, I can’t avoid giving my own opinion. An opinion based in my Christian faith but which has never been tested by facing, or being close to, a suicide situation; I hope it never will be.
Is suicide wrong? Yes, I believe it is.
Is assisting suicide wrong? Yes, I believe it is.
Is asking someone to assist a suicide wrong? Yes I believe it is and that it is probably a greater, selfish, wrong.
Is failure to preserve life wrong? Yes.
Is failure to prolong life wrong? No.
Having said all that; should a person have the right to end their own life by committing suicide? Yes. Even though I believe suicide to be wrong, it would be equally wrong of me to take away another person’s choice.
Evelyn Beartrice Hall once wrote (often misattributed to Voltair) “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death [excuse the poor pun] your right to say it.” That’s how I feel about suicide. I don’t agree with it, assisted or otherwise but, it is a personal decision and everyone should have the right to make their own choice.