Shropshire Star

Star comment: Grey area key in right to die law

Whose life is it? It is a question which is fundamental to the right-to-die debate.


It used to be relatively simple. God gave life, and God took life. An individual could not, or rather should not, take their own life. Bizarre as it may seem now, attempting to commit suicide was a punishable crime.

Advances in medicine mean that people who would once have died relatively quickly through disease or injury can now be sustained in life, sometimes in circumstances, such as a persistent vegetative state, where the quality of that life and whether indeed it represents life, as opposed to an existence, is the subject of profound debate and principled argument.

Their condition robs them of all sorts of choices, including whether to die at their own hand.

In speaking out against assisted suicide in his Easter address, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Shrewsbury, the Rt Rev Mark Davies, invokes concerns about the weakest and most vulnerable in society if assisted suicide becomes legal.

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He voices what is a big fear about any move which will give anybody the green light to help somebody end their life.

Against the background of deeply-held beliefs, there is the dimension of troubling human experience – those people who are terminally ill, in chronic pain or with steadily declining faculties, people like Sir Chris Woodhead, the former schools inspector, who has motor neurone disease. His life is one of increasing dependence on others.

Sir Chris, a former Shropshire teacher and education adviser, says in an interview that his life still has value and importance for him, and that he would have killed himself already had it not been for the support of his wife.

However, he has indicated that should he lose the power to speak or breathe unaided, the time will have come for him to end his life.

He is critical of those fit and able-bodied people, with no knowledge of what it means to be seriously ill, who oppose assisted suicide. For him, easing those at the end of the road on their way is a noble act of mercy and compassion.

Sir Chris is an intelligent man, and undoubtedly a strong character with firm and considered views.

And therein lies the difficulty – devising a law to cover every individual experience, and every situation.

Laws exist to ensure that people do no wrong. Here is a grey area where there is no longer a consensus of what is right and what is wrong.

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