I knew the guidelines released by Keir Starmer would be a victory for advocates of assisted suicide but I had no idea just how lopsided they would be. The new guidelines that go into force today may only be interim guidelines and are subject to debate before a final version is issued next year. However, don't let this technicality fool you nor be swayed by misleading statements by Keir Starmer who maintains "Assisted suicide has been a criminal offense for nearly 50 years and my interim policy does nothing to change that". Mr. Starmer is correct, assisted suicide is still against the law in Britain but if one actually commits this crime the odds of being prosecuted are non existent. Again, don't be misled by statement such as this: "There are no guarantees against prosecution and it is my job to ensure that the most vulnerable people are protected while at the same time giving enough information to those people like Mrs. Purdy who want to be able to make informed decisions about what actions they may choose". What a relief, Starmer is concerned about protecting the most vulnerable. Well, to all those vulnerable people out there I have a word of advise: watch out because your relatives and loved ones can kill you without fear of prosecution. In the words of Starmer: "We are proud of the way we temper justice with mercy. The decision not to prosecute provides essential flexibility to prosecutors ... the critical question I have considered is: what are the circumstances in which it is or is not in the public interest to prosecute a person against whom there is enough evidence to support the criminal offence of assisted suicide?"
The above begs the question who can commit suicide with assistance? People that assisted a suicide not likely to face charges include the following:
A victim that had a clear, settled and informed desire to commit suicide whose views were unequivocal.
A victim had a terminal illness, a severe and incurable physical disability or severe degenerative condition from which there was no possibility of recovery.
The victim had long-term care based needs with a wife, husband, partner, close relative or personal friend.
The victim was given minor assistance or influence.
Under these guidelines anyone in my family can "help" me die. I do indeed have a severe disability and there is no hope my paralysis will ever be cured. Thus the guidelines will permit my family to use Starmer's words act with "compassion". Compassion! My idea of compassion does not include assisted suicide. My idea of compassion does not include assisting people with "severe and incurable" disabilities kill themselves. My idea of compassion does not include hastening the death of those with severe degenerative conditions. My idea of compassion does not include killing those who are terminally ill. My idea of compassion does not include killing those I care for who may have a condition like Alzheimer's Disease. Starmer believes he is acting with compassion but I think his guidelines are inherently dangerous and grossly subjective. Rather than clarify the legality of assisted suicide he has opened the door for supposedly well meaning people to kill vulnerable people. And who comes to mind here? Daniel James' parents. Under Starmer's guidelines they would be considered compassionate people and free from prosecution. Given this, I am worried about a class of people that are not valued--people with a host of different disabilities. People like Debbie Purdy. People like me. People that experience a life altering disability. What will become of these people in a country that has instituted guidelines where assisted suicide is illegal but no one is prosecuted? Let me provide one example in which those that may mean well will in fact encourage another human being to needlessly end their life. Imagine this scenario: a young man has been in a car accident. He is from a working class background with little education and modest goals. He is an avid soccer player and self professed ladies man. He is told by his doctor that his spinal cord has been severed. He is paralyzed from the 8th cervical level down. He will never walk again, has no sensation throughout his body, and he has limited use of his hands. Sex is no longer possible. He will be "wheelchair bound", unable to transfer independently and be dependent upon personal care attendants for the rest of his life. He will be sent to a rehabilitation hospital when medically stable. Given the harsh reality described in an overwhelming negative fashion, this young man might decide life is not worth living. His family, like Daniel James' parents, may agree and help him end his life. No person will be prosecuted and no crime will have been committed. To me this is not compassion but a legal form of murder.
I know a good bit about compassion and vulnerability. I learned about this the hard way--I was vulnerable, i.e. morbidly sick as a child, and my parents showed great compassion caring for me. I learned some very hard lessons at a young age and was taught to never doubt my self worth or ability. I vividly recall when I was told I could not walk again my parents cried with me and whenever I started to doubt myself they would hiss with a vengeance: "Your legs may not work but the most important part of your body is perfectly intact, your brain, and you better start using it." The compassion and belief they showed in me was a force unto itself at a time when I was most vulnerable. Overtime I found my groove, realized that my disability was more of a social problem than an individual impediment to what I valued and wanted to achieve in life. Fast forward 30 years and I am a tax payer, father, teacher, writer, and lead a life that is as rich and rewarding as my neighbors all of whom walk. I will never forget how lucky I am because at the most vulnerable point in life received nothing more and nothing less than total support from my parents. In retrospect I know I could have been seduced via a perverse form of compassion to end my life. I could have been like Daniel James, dead within a year of my injury. This is exactly why the Daniel James case is so disturbing and why the guidelines set forth today by Starmer are down right dangerous. I have no doubt the elderly, terminally ill, or those with a severe disability will be encouraged to die. This will not be done with malicious intent but the end result will be death, needless death. Of course the words used will be spoken with the utmost compassion that I sincerely hope will never emerge from the mouths of those that love me.
Paralyzed since I was 18 years old, I have spent much of the last 30 years thinking about the reasons why the social life of crippled people is so different from those who ambulate on two feet. After reading about the so called Ashley Treatment I decided it was time to write a book about my life as a crippled man. My book, Bad Cripple: A Protest from an Invisible Man, will be published by Counter Punch. I hope my book will completed soon.
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Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Starmer's Interim Guidelines a Slam Dunk for Assisted Suicide
Posted by william Peace at 6:57 AM
PhD 1992 in anthropology Columbia University, I am interested in disability rights and bioethics.
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This is terrifying and it is indeed subjective. For example, 'severity' of a disability is a construct built of thousands of parts--including things like accessibility and cultural acceptance. Both of these things differ from community to community and they can change or be changed anytime. This is more than a slippery slope this is a slippery cliff.
Please keep speaking out.
Terri, Multiple factors do indeed go into access and the cultural acceptance of people with a disability. To this I would add economic and family variables are critically important as well. Without adequate family support and proper health care disability can be devastating to an individual. All one needs to consider is how Daniel James' parents responded to his disability as opposed to families like mine that were supportive and stressed what I could still do.
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