Society’s fear of death condemns Nicklinson to a lifetime of suffering
Yesterday’s verdict that Tony Nicklinson will not be allowed to die with the help of doctors is depressing indeed for Nicklinson but unsurprising. Death is the last taboo of a society too focused on preserving life at any cost. What Nicklinson was seeking was unpalatable to a mainstream society that refuses to engage with our mortality.
From the inexorable rise of age-defying cosmetic surgery, to the consistently low numbers of people signing up for organ donation, to the fact that many doctors would not endure the cancer treatment that we routinely punish our bodies with, we are indeed a society that can’t abide talking about the end of life, let alone accept it.
Unsurprising then that a man who is brave enough to say that he openly, logically, and clearly choses death over life was never going to have his petition granted. Yes, the court has declared its legal reasons for not granting Nicklinson his request but behind these I have no doubt lies the emotional reason: that life must be venerated, clung to, adored at any cost.
Nicklinson has lived in a paralysed state since 2005, unable even to talk. He has had many minutes, hours, days and years to know, without any doubt, that for him enough is now enough. His family are supporting his decision to die as they have seen first-hand that the mind and body can only cope with so much suffering. Yet society cannot grant him any respite as we refuse to engage with the concept that life under some circumstances just isn’t preferable to death.
When Terry Pratchett was speaking out for euthanasia tribunals back in 2010, I was struck by the fact that he would have been engaging with the question of when life is not worth living every day since his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, yet is relying on law-makers who don’t have that visceral experience to inform their decision.
The fact is that unless you have experienced the slow deterioration of health that comes with serious illnesses, the vast majority of us would not have given a second thought to what we can and can’t endure.
Throughout the country, those of us with serious illnesses slowly steel ourselves to our own mortality in the isolation of our homes. And it’s a very lonely experience as we are often unable to share our worries or, indeed hopes for how we wish to die, with friends and family – let alone wider society – for fear of upsetting them. The time has come for us to listen and emotionally understand how death can be terrifying but can also, in some cases, be welcomed. I firmly believe that no-one would willingly suffer the life that we are asking Nicklinson to suffer.
As medical advances allow those to live who otherwise would not have done, we cannot as a society forever shut our ears to the pleas of the seriously disabled to experience the same dignity in death that they would wish in life. It is a hard conversation, and requires sensitive and adequate rules to govern assisted dying but by far the biggest hurdle to overcome is our fear of our own mortality.
I only hope that Tony Nicklinson’s appeal is successful but doubt it will be until society understands the true value of death – that it can be a final blessing to the great life that we have lived.Tagged in: assisted suicide, death, disability, euthanasia, locked-in syndrome, right to die, Tony Nicklinson
Recent Posts on Notebook
- The Road to the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc - Majorca 70.3 Ironman
- The Retail Ready People project means the future of the high street is in your hands
- Don't get mad about Amazon and make the right ethical choice
- Chagos: Conservationists are swimming in murky waters
- Justin Webb on the medical advances in tackling heart disease
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter