Should the Right to Die be a Human Right?

December 10, 2008

Today is Human Rights day, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To commemmorate this event, the society intended to have a presentation and discussion on the principles behind human rights, but the speaker had to cancel so we called it off. I noticed all the front pages this morning shared the theme of assisted suicide, except the Daily Express which decided to lead on house prices and ‘the bounce factor’ (apparently someone went on Strictly Come Dancing without a bra, woop de doo – also covered in the Mail’s ‘Femail’ section, which I notice is full of fashion ‘news’ and crap about TV – is that all they think women are interested in? Prats), so I decided to link it in with the theme of human rights. Here‘s a link to the Guardian story on it, which has links to related stories for wider interest.

People who own TV’s might know that tonight there’s some kind of show on the issue which is supposed to be showing the assisted death of Dr Craig Ewart in 2006. It’s a difficult issue, some have already slated it as ‘macabre voyeurism’, but I disagree. The debate over assisted suicide is a very important one and I think this programme goes a long way to discuss the topic. If the footage of the death is appropriate then it goes a long way to raise the consciousness of the issue, showing it as a source of peace for some people rather than some kind of devaluation of human life. The interest in the documentary seems to me to have very little to do with the death itself, more with the emotional issues surrounding it. It does seem a shame that the media focus is on the footage of the death rather than the debate which it informs, and that I do agree is a kind of voyeurism which I don’t approve of, but I don’t think people are going to watch this just because they may see someone die.

The main argument used against euthanasia and assisted suicide is that it would open the back door to people being killed against their will. Gordon Brown today used a similar argument that he didn’t want anyone feeling pressured into assisted suicide, or feel that it’s the expected thing to do. These to me are separate issues. If someone wants to die with dignity in their own time, they should have the right to do so, but it is up to those who will regulate any such action to ensure it is not abused. Potential abuse is not a good reason to ban euthanasia, it should be an issue with euthanasia itself. I also don’t think people are going to think assisted suicide is the expected thing to do. There are plenty of people with physically debilitating conditions who do not choose to die, and it is a very small minority who do, but those people should not have their choice taken away from them just because of a fear of abuse, the implementation of the law should prevent that. We own our own bodies and are masters over our own lives, so we should be able to choose if we no longer wish to live. An inability to take your own life should not hinder such a right. I think it should come under the right to life.