My idea of a close-to-perfect evening is people around the table engaging in conversation about something other than the weather or football or who’s been doing what to whom. I like conversation that sparks debate, broadens my horizons and gets me thinking about stuff that I might normally never give much thought to. Like assisted suicide.
This was thrown out on the table as a statistic last week – suicide tourism to Switzerland has doubled between 2008 and 2012, when 611 people aged 23 to 91 travelled there on a one-way ticket to benefit from the country’s lack of regulation on assisted suicides. And it’s still lodged in my brain as a moral dilemma with the conspiracy theorist in me screaming ‘rocky road’.
Fundamentally, I think the taking of any life is wrong. Death penalty, murder, suicide – human lives are not for us to take. Yep – I believe in God and the whole what God hath given let no man take away (I’m probably misquoting here as I have a sneaking suspicion that this referred to marriage – joining together and pulling asunder, etc.). Yet, part of me is wondering about the importance of dignity in death. Just how deep does this belief of mine run?
I’ve been described as a pick’n’mix Catholic. I remind myself regularly that the Roman Catholic Church is a man-made institution and there is quite a lot about it that I don’t agree with. But I was born into it and for the most part, it suits me. My relationship with my God is one that transcends any religion and while I might operate within the framework of the RCC, that doesn’t mean I agree with everything it teaches. So yes, definitely, I’m of the pick’n’mix variety – something that many devout religious will see as a betrayal, a cop-out even, and perhaps they have a point. But I’m wary of convictions that turn into proselytising.
I don’t believe in abortion. I can’t think of a situation whereby I would ever avail of one but I know I don’t have the right to impose that belief on anyone else. I can’t speak for someone else’s circumstances and it’s not for me to judge or make choices for anyone other than myself. I can share my views, thoughts, beliefs, opinions; I can show by example; but I can’t make choices for others. I have vivid recollections of a movie in which a Catholic priest allows his sister to die rather than give the doctor permission to abort the child she is carrying, thus saving her life. (Strangely, I can’t remember the name of it but it had Bing Crosby, or Frank Sinatra, or Gene Hackman, or Fred Astaire playing the priest.) I was very young when I saw it and was troubled for weeks about who was right – the priest (who let his sister die rather than kill an innocent child) or the woman’s partner (who wanted her to live even if the child died) – but on some level I knew that were I the woman, I’d have wanted my child to live and I doubt I’d have forgiven anyone who decided to the contrary on my behalf.
I’d like to think that if I had a nasty, debilitating disease like ALS, that I’d stick it out and learn the lesson I have to learn from it in this life working on the premise that God only gives us as much as we can bear – but that’s easier said than done. Were I to be so afflicted, a one-way ticket to Switzerland might prove too much of a temptation. Were a family member or a close friend to ask me to help them arrange an assisted suicide, I doubt very much that I’d refuse, even if I thought it wrong. I would see it as their choice, their decision, and again, I wouldn’t think it my place to judge. Likewise if they chose to refuse treatment in the hope of speeding up the inevitable. Their choice. I’d have to respect it.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot this past week. In part because of the tragic video testimonies from ALS sufferers doing the rounds in the ice-bucket challenge, and in part because I know people who have suffered and are suffering through very debilitating diseases, whose loss of quality of life is painful to see.
I’m no closer to a decision – and perhaps that’s best. Just as I’d like to think that I’d have been active in the underground railroad in Civil War America or Nazi Germany/Europe, I’d like think that I’d do the right thing if confronted with a personal choice. But then, what’s the right thing? If it just affects me, that’s one thing – but what of those who are left to care for me in my vegetative state – am I choosing for them, too?
It’s relatively easy to have an opinion about just about anything – it’s only when that opinion/belief is actually put to the test that we really know its value. And I pray that this particular question is one that remains unanswered.