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The Sunday Sermon; Suicide and the right to die


Content note, this post discuses suicide at length but without details of methods, it also discusses suicidal ideation

I spent part of last night supporting a friend who was concerned that someone had attempted to take their own life. After a couple of hours the news came through that they were alive and had been taken to hospital. In this situation I am never quite sure what the right words to use are. Someone was in extreme pain, tried to end that pain, and did not succeed. They may have caused damage to their body dependent on the method used and are now at the mercies of the psychiatric regimes of their particular country. Sectioning may save lives, but it is rarely care of the highest standard or often any-more than a chemical cosh and imprisonment,

I have faced that desire to escape many times over the years, the only way I can sum it up is wanting an end to the pain. People call suicide selfish, as if the person concerned should be able to put aside their pain and think about others. When I have contemplated that choice I have honestly believed others would be better without me in their lives, or been in such a place that the existence of others were mere shadows on the wall of my existence. It may seem trite to say this but suicide is the option of the last resort, if you were able to understand or appreciate your connections with others as positive you would not be taking it.

I am writing about this today because an acceptable form (to many) of suicide is in the news, George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, has come out in favour of what people like to call “assisted dying” or suicide, for those with terminal or extreme physically life limiting conditions.

But in his article in Saturday’s Daily Mail Lord Carey said: “The fact is that I have changed my mind. The old philosophical certainties have collapsed in the face of the reality of needless suffering.”

Ignoring the fact Carey was writing for the Mail, he was never a friend of the poor or disposed, I am left wondering what philosophical certainties he thinks has changed, and what he defines as needless suffering? There are a number of ways this piece could go from here, into Job perhaps and confusion that a Christian could ever use the term needless suffering. However what strikes me is that when it comes to physical pain and disabilities we are willing to grant some things as unbearable but deny that to those with mental anguish and pain. Even more odd when Carey says his mind was changed by the testimony of Tony Nicklinson, who wanted to die because of his physical inability to do the things he used too. This is not to minimize the suffering he felt about this, it was however the core of his argument.

Carey it seems feels that some mental pain and anguish, that at not being physically abled is deserving of his compassion and a change in the law. I think I am safe in assuming though that he does not believe that all people suffering from mental pain and anguish should receive medical assistance when they want to die. Which I think is why, as a country we are not ready for an assisted dying law. We are not sure who we want to assist and why. We respect some peoples autonomy, the severely disabled, or rather perhaps we understand why anyone in their “right mind” would want to die if they were physically disabled. However we still forcibly section people with a different class of disabled who want to die.

This is not a piece saying anyone who wants to commit suicide should be given help to do so. I am really unsure where I stand. However I do know that Carey is wrong, the old philosophical certainties have not been overturned. They cannot be while we do not even know what those certainties are.


2 comments on “The Sunday Sermon; Suicide and the right to die

  1. punterthoughts
    July 13, 2014

    I share your uncertainty on this topic. As a libertarian (with a small l) I believe in the right of individuals to pursue their own ends provided that by doing so no harm is caused to others. This includes the “right” (although I am, perhaps using the wrong word here) to end their own life. However, as a physically disabled person I am concerned about the potential abuses which could creep in where assisted dying to be legalised. The Third Reich’s T-4 Programme under which the physically and mentally disabled where sterilised or killed casts a baleful shadow over the debate. We do, I think need to be very wary of changing the law on assisted dying.


    • jemima2013
      July 14, 2014

      those are very much my feelings too


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This entry was posted on July 13, 2014 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , .

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