Tuesday, June 02, 2009


My first - as I remember - article for The Sunday Times Magazine was about euthanasia in Holland. It was commissioned by a deputy editor who had been brought in to lighten up the mag with celeb stuff. They didn't realise I had already cast my pall of gloom over the poor man. I careered around Holland in - as I remember - a VW Polo or some such, convincing myself that, beneath their bland and reasonable surface all the Dutch wanted to do was top each other. I fled, violently opposed to euthanasia. Now, of course, everybody's at it. Brits are flocking to Dignitas. Also, relatedly, there's the killing of Dr Tiller in the US. Abortion and euthanasia seem to be much on our minds. I used to be against both, but now I find it hard to care - not in a callous sense but because I don't feel it's any of my business. It's true that, ideally, dying should not be seen as a personal matter, but, on the other hand, I cannot quite see what remains to set up in opposition to the personal. Religion, of course, but we, in Britain, don't think we have that and, in America, it has been turned into a sordid shooting match. If a suffering friend was off to Dignitas with the blessing of his family, what form of counter-argument would I deploy? And I've seen enough suffering caused by handicapped children not to feel confident enough to talk anybody out of an abortion. If there is a persuasive argument against the purely personal in these matters - and I don't mean the thin end of the wedge, slippery slope type argument which is a purely practical, beside the point matter - then I'd like to hear it. Until then, every man, me included, is an island, entire of itself.


  1. This blog itself is a counterargument. If you were to top yourself even we would miss you.

  2. Don't do it Bryan - if you do, Susan B & i will kill ourselves in order to follow you to Hell and harangue you for taking the easy way out. Damn coward. You've just got to tough it out, with Calvados & nuts & raw meat to keep your spirits up.

    Imagine being in a small part of Hell forever - with Susan and myself for company.

  3. this is not one for a broad brush assessment. unless it's someone you know how can you care? but if it is, well, maybe that's the best safeguard....little archipelagos.

  4. "If a suffering friend was off to Dignitas with the blessing of his family, what form of counter-argument would I deploy?"

    Hard cases make bad law, is a good enough maxim.

    The real issue is that we are not actually talking about suicide, or the right to die. We are talking about conferring the right to kill on someone else. You, I and your friend might be sufficiently aware, considered and settled to give someone else that right, but I wouldn't bet on it and I certainly wouldn't bet on it for all. Add to that the sort of shits, like the head of Dignitas, who are very keen to run this business, and I think no needs to be the answer now and for the future.

    And none of us is going to be deprived of the right to die.

  5. Because it reduces the value of human life to utilitarian cost/benefit analysis, perhaps?

  6. That's a general argument, Pat, not much use one-on-one.

    I don't think there are any arguments that can be used in all personal cases, because they're all, by definition, different. I guess for a lot of cases (especially where the problem is mental suffering rather than straightforward physical pain), the most powerful argument would be an attempt to make the subject see the damage suicide causes to those left behind, which is usually appalling.

  7. Excellent point, recusant.

    I think Bryan is just suffering some sort of late middle age malaise here: aren't there many areas regarding use of our bodies for which we legislate and fret about appropriate ethics, yet these are arguably "purely personal" matters. Such as age of consent, prostitution, contraception for young teenagers, students and sex with teachers. In Australia, there has been much talk lately arising from an incident of footballers having group sex which was (at the time) apparently consented to by the woman, but she later deeply regretted it.

    As for abortion: Bryan seems to be thinking only in terms of abortion for recognized major defects, which is a good way to avoid the "hard" issues, such as late term abortion for the barely disabled. (Again in Australia, a few years ago, there was a high profile case of a woman who insisted, with the threat of self harm, on a late term abortion for a child that may have had dwarfism. She got it, as the doctors really did feel she would top herself.)

    Leave that up to the "purely personal" feelings of the mother? I don't think so.