Our government is engaged in changing the laws to permit the intentional ending of life under certain strictly limited and regulated conditions. I understand the persons authorised to end those carefully defined lives will be medical practitioners. The government did not ask this practitioner for his view. They didn’t seek my approval or consent. But the government is OUR government, elected democratically by citizens like me. Governments make laws; that is their legal right and function. Legality of course is not a synonym for wisdom, nor for morality.
In 1963 I won my school’s Oratory contest with my speech on this subject. To win a speaking contest at a Jewish school is a great distinction: Jews are born talking, debating, arguing.
I argued against euthanasia. The adjudicator awarded me the prize, describing my address as ‘rousing’. That was in 1963 when I was seventeen and my moral world was simple. I would not give that same speech today. It smacked of demagoguery. It was certainly complacent.
In the threescore years since I have brought people into this life and I have seen others to its exit. I have not pushed anyone through the exit, at least not by intent. I have seen many people die in peace and a smaller number die in agony. My thinking developed to the point where I felt I had no right to deprive a person of the free choice to exit. That is I felt the living person alone knew best whether her life was tolerable; and no other person could decide that better than she. Ultimately her life was her property. In many cases I wished silently for the patient’s release.
But I never came to the feeling that I had the right to end a life. After years, sometimes decades, of caring for a patient, I might become her most painful disappointment.
Soon or sooner the law will change. That is the wish of the electors. Governments will stipulate that a doctor be the person who carries out the intentional ending of life. Government and patients will find me disappointing. Some will find my nonaction to be arrogant. I will have no defense to offer a critic. The ending of a life which is intolerable to its living owner cries out for a solution. I do not have the solution. I am not the solution.
I am unsure whether changing a law actually resolves these agonies.
Another doctor’s view:
Euthanasia: an emphatic no from this GP