Whose decision?

Yesterday the dual carriageway I was travelling on was closed because a teenage girl jumped from a bridge to her death.

A couple of months ago the House of Commons voted against an Assisted Dying Bill. A blunt summary might be to wonder whether being fully able-bodied is the only qualification you need to take your own life.

The Assisted Dying Bill has many opponents. Their arguments are by and large very reasonable, and it’s easy to see that insufficient safeguards could result in terrible situations of people being pressured, coerced and choosing a death they weren’t ready for. There’s a generation that is so selfless and would do anything for others – especially their children – at their own expense that it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that with little left to live for, they would make the ultimate sacrifice.

However, for me, choosing to die is a right everyone has as a human being. The problem with this position, though, is how to define and guarantee autonomy and influence-free decision making.

The young girl who took her life obviously chose to. However, there is every chance she was mentally unwell. At what point can we, society, take that decision out of her hands? If she could be cured, or at least made to feel a little better through treatment, shouldn’t we be obliged to prevent her making such a terminal choice before she had the opportunity to get better? Could she really have been classed as autonomous and making decisions freely?

What if she were not mentally ill by any clinical measure but had thought the matter through deeply and could see no value in living. Should we still prevent her? If not, why not – are we prejudiced against mentally ill people, or young people, or females? Does she have to pass an IQ test?

Would we fight with the same verve to prevent an 85-year old in great pain committing suicide? Probably not. We might conclude they’d had a good innings but the young girl’s life was all ahead of her. But maybe the 85-year old hadn’t had a good life and perhaps they should have had one more shot at redemption. And maybe the girl would go on to a life of pain and distress not only to herself but to others. Which is the right decision? And who should make it? And when deciding all this, who are the moral arbiters and by what principles do they act?

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4 thoughts on “Whose decision?

  1. Mental illness is a perfectly rational reason to die. It’s a part of your reality, not a distortion. If I know that I will suffer from depression or schizophrenia and therapy might not work, why go on?

    Suicide prevention also only increases the shaming and guilt-ing of suicide. You think you help people, but you actually tell them to shut up and agree with you.

    The right to die cannot exist without the right to live. A whole life ahead isn’t a reason to go on living. Sometimes, it’s overwhelming. It’s time to let go of people who don’t want to stay around.

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    • I agree that mental illness is a part of one’s reality but I question whether it is a perfectly rational reason to die. I guess I hope there will always be some kind of solution to – or at the very least an alleviation from – any mental illness, which means suicide is not the only option.

      People’s reactions to suicide and suicidal intentions certainly often leave a lot to be desired. I’ve never subscribed to the popular ‘it’s a coward’s way out’. It’s the biggest – and final – decision anyone makes. I would just like everyone to have the opportunity to be heard – really heard – before they make that final decision.

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      • Why is a person forced to solve his mental illness? What if he prefers to die than live with the memory of mental illness?
        Unless we allow people a painless way to die and accept their suicide, we will never hear them. A lot of people don’t hate their suicidal thoughts.

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  2. I see two issues here: firstly, the challenge society faces here is the clash of two equally desirable elements, namely, one: everyone should be autonomous, make their own decisions and be their own master; and two, people should care for other people, support them in times of difficulty and simply act as decent human beings. Someone with a mental illness should retain their rights but at the same time be helped, if possible, by those around them.

    The second issue is that those who are mentally ill are rarely well placed to judge their own illness. So I would say that anyone seeing suicide as an appealing prospect has lost the ability to see things in context, and their internal logic is flawed. That is why it is up to others to at least give them the option of seeing things another way. The problem here, of course, is: who decides what is normal? Who decides what is ok? If someone is sectioned against their will, is this right?

    I don’t claim to have all the answers but I would like all people to have the opportunity to be heard and to address their mental health issues. For suicide to be talked about as a kind of lifestyle choice rather obscures the fact that it is a very final lifestyle choice. And there could be a better way.

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