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?