This week saw Tony Nicklinson, who suffers from locked-in syndrome, being granted permission by a High Court judge to proceed with his “right-to-die” case to a full hearing. Mr Nicklinson wants the courts to allow a doctor to end his life, effectively murdering him, should he so choose. Because his condition has caused total paralysis he would not be able to finish his own life at a doctor assisted suicide clinic such as Dignitas in Switzerland.
The ministry of justice has opposed the move arguing that making such a ruling would authorise murder and change the law governing it. You can read about the case in more depth at Dr Peter Saunders’ Christian Medical Comment blog.
Following his ruling at the High Court, Mr Justice Charles said the case’s issues “raise questions that have great social, ethical and religious significance and they are questions on which widely differing beliefs and views are held, often strongly”.
He is absolutely right.
It is hard not to sympathise with Mr Nicklinson’s position. To have a fully functioning mind, but be completely trapped inside an almost lifeless body only being able to communicate through blinking is not a situation you would want anyone to be in. But despite the frustration he is going through, can we really make an exception in his case and ask someone to end his life prematurely?
This is yet another case where someone facing an incredibly difficult life because of their failing body has sought to be allowed to choose to die. Each time a call goes out lobbying the government to change the law to give individuals the right to choose when to end their lives. With each case it feels like the pressure is growing and it is a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ this will eventually happen.
Looking at things from a biblical perspective, murder in the form of euthanasia is extremely hard to justify. The sixth commandment, “You shall not murder.” (NIV) is the most obvious example. The Bible is life affirming, encouraging us to enjoy life fully and make the most of it. Even when Paul in his letter to the Phillipians describes how he longs to die so that he can be released from his earthly suffering and go to be with Christ, he knows that it is better for him to stay alive to do God’s work.
It could be argued that this is a simplistic approach to the complexities of a life such as Tony Nicklinson’s. If God is a God of love and compassion then surely he would want Mr Nicklinson to be released from his suffering. Whilst this approach appears logical at face value, it misses the crucial point of why life is sacred in a Christian context. According to the Bible, humans were created to be in relationship with God. Through a life lived in union with Him, we are made whole and complete and are able to live it in all its fulness, no matter what condition our bodies are in. Life is not just physical, it has a spiritual dimension too.
The problem comes when we deny our spiritual element. If we see ourselves as essentially no different to any other animal, just being cogs in a chaotic and meaningless universe, then we open ourselves up to the belief that life has no inherent value. Does it really matter if someone chooses to end their life prematurely?
As our country continues to head down the road of secularism, this question becomes more and more reasonable to ask. However, in our quest to meet the desire of the individual we end up harming the fabric of the society we live in. Life is cheapened as is our sense of worth and identity. This is not the way to make our lives better.
Removing God from the equation leaves us in a much worse place. We need to pray for those like Mr Nicklinson, that they will be able to deal with their situations. Life can be very cruel at times, but the way to look for a solution is not to end it, but rather acknowledge that through relationship with God restoration can be brought about and life can become worthwhile again.
Categories: Faith in society, Morals & ethics, The law & legal issues
I can see a potentially ethical way out of this dilemma. A person with normal control of their body is able to refuse food and medical treatment, if necessary by closing their mouth or spitting food out. Indeed, although I am not sure what the legal limits are, it is unethical and illegal to force feed people or to give them medical treatment without permission. In a case like this, although Mr Nicklinson cannot physically reject food or treatment, he can withdraw his consent to being fed or treated. And that would surely lead to his death, probably rather quickly. I don’t know what the law is here. But I hardly see that respecting someone’s properly informed request not to feed them or treat them, with no coercion involved, can be considered murder.
Of course there are dangers here, such as families and care homes neglecting old people so that they die of starvation. So proven informed consent is clearly necessary. But in practice already many old people die because they lose the will to live and so don’t feed themselves, or allow themselves to be fed, properly.
I think this is a much more preferable solution to the problem than euthanasia. Mr Nicklinson’s wife has said in an interview that he didn’t want to die of starvation as that would be too painful and he wants a quick death in he so chooses. I don’t think that’s a good enough argument to change the law. I’ve seen family members lose the will to live and waste away as a result. It might not be pleasant to watch from the outside, but for them it was the best thing.
I really don’t think that any doctor should ever be asked to kill someone deliberately. It goes against the Hypocratic oath that doctors take pledging to practice medicine ethically.
You’re joking right?
You would rather a man starved himself to death than be euthanised in a dignified manner. You’re under the impression that’s a fantastic solution?
Why would a merciful God prefer someone to endure a horrible, not to mention painful death that would cause massive distress to him and his family? Have you thought what you’re asking him to do?
If that’s the sort of god I’m supposed to love and respect I think I’m going to join a new species. Have some compassion! I’m 18, surely you should all know better!
I wish you luck with your caring and merciful lord because I don’t want any of it.
Thanks for your comments. It does seem hard-hearted to not allow Tony Nicklinson to die, but I think that the three High Court judges and the British Medical Association rejected his case for good reason. Do you really think you know better than them?
Life is not simple and sometimes the rights of a society are more important than the wishes of an individual. ‘Us’ is more important than ‘me’ but so often we forget that. Tony Nicklinson deserves all the support and help he can get, but that doesn’t extend to forcing someone else to kill him and that’s where the difficulty lies.
As a side point if God removed all the physical and emotional suffering from this world it would look completely different. Instead what I’ve experienced and seen is that when we allow it God can help us deal with the suffering that we meet throughout life and can also bring personal healing and peace that we would otherwise never achieve. Of course if we’re not interested in learning more then we’ll never know.
What a terrible situation Tony Nichlinson is in , how would we feel, surely the compassionate thing would be to be relieved of such a terrible existence. Such is the seriousness of his condition anything you say from now on can seem glib. We might like to think our love for God is so strong that it would help us to accept such an existence were we to suffer it. His feelings and wishes are completely understandable. I have watched people die more times than i care to remember. I have seen people turn their faces to the wall and will death, I have seen people die of a broken heart after losing a life long partner, I have seen people whose desperate desire to survive has made their passing a struggle, lingering and traumatic. I have seen others almost embrace death with grace and a thought for those around them that made the end peaceful and moving. I have seen people starve themselves to death but it is not always that quick and can be uncomfortable, unpleasant, and undignified. I think if somebody chooses the option and is determined to starve themselves to death i think it is ethical to administer morphine to ensure comfort and releive pain. In the old days Doctors would have facilitated this in co operation with the family and never a newspaper would have known. Before litigation became more common place. We cannot sanction Euthenasia for many reasons because the goalposts inevitably get moved and you would end up with death on demand as we now have abortion on demand, the safeguards in time would become meaningless. Particularly in an era of scant economic resource there would be a political pressure. In the age of inheritance, family pressure on the vulnerable elderly. But also we have to consider the wellbeing of the conscience of the person carrying out the lethal injection. Some may be willing to carry out this act of ”mercy” but as we know from personal testimonies people such as soldiers, state executioners,doctors, women who have had abortions, often suffer post traumatic stress, emotional detachment or remorse, sometimes many years later. These are the unseen effects. We should not go down this road at all as you could never put adequate safeguards in place. Once you begin the move away from the sanctity of life you could end up at the other extreme. A suggestion recently made by two ethicists that women should have the right to kill newly born babies even if the child was healthy, on the basis that if the mother no longer wanted it, justification was the baby could not sustain life of itself.( the ultimate in pro choice ) Christ suffered for a reason. Tony Nicholson reason to live now is to get the law changed so that others do not have to suffer what he is suffering. In one sense this is laudible. If he wins though many others will suffer in the future but in different but normally less dramatic ways. God has made it so because i think it asks something of us. It moves us toward care and heroic deeds and working out salvation.Sometimes it to acheive a wider purpose which we may not be aware of. If you dont beleive in God this must be all the more dispairing because there seems to be no reason let alone any hope ? I think we all probably feel very uneasy and very sorry for him. Lets pray for the right thing to happen and that Gods will be done.
I have come to the conclusion that people in general are selfish and cruel. You don’t like that he wants to die in a painless and peaceful way so you decree that he should die in a painful and totally cruel and unbearable way. What planet are you on. YOU do not have the right to decide. He has full use of his brain so only he has the right to decide how he should die. I would have no worries about putting someone out of their intense misery just the same as I wouldn’t allow an animal to suffer. Vets do it all the time but no one says starve it to death. God is not a kind being if such a being exists and I truly hope it does not. Look around you for goodness sake, torture murder sexual abuse slavery female mutilation child abuse the list is endless. This so called god created these monsters in his image if the bible is to be beleived. I can only hope that by the time I become too old to look after myself and have to rely on some of the cretins out their (so called caring people) to look after me that euthenasia has been made legal.
I don’t have the right to decide whether Tony Nicklinson should be allowed to die. The problem is that the only way he can die except naturally is for someone to kill him. Does he have the right to make someone else do that?
If we believe that we are no different to other animals then we need to change the laws completely. If however we believe that our society needs laws to protect everyone then that sometimes means difficult decisions need to be made.
Sometimes we feel like the obvious answer is staring us in the face and yet we only see part of the picture. What appears to be good for one person may cause another harm.
I really don’t feel that there is any case for NOT allowing this man to die. He’s clearly a very intelligent soul who is suffering and whose family is suffering because of some god-awful situation that was brought about through no fault of their own. If he had the use of his body, I’m sure he’d do it himself. The fact that he’s been condemned to die a long, slow, painful death by the courts is utterly wrong. I don’t believe that euthanasia will spiral out of control if it’s legalised. Are we so weak and pathetic that we can’t put in place some rock solid regulations that would prevent rogue doctors from simply killing off the ones who are being too much of a drain on the NHS? And in NOT doing so, is it right to condemn people to this quality of “life”?