‘I want to die. Please help me.’
It was 2 a.m. in the good old days when patients had 24-hour cover by their own GPs. I knew Martin well. His bladder cancer had been diagnosed the year before, but more recently it had spread to the lymph nodes in his pelvis and he had run out of effective treatments. Martin had borne his illness with stoicism so far but on this night he was in terrible pain — both physical and existential.
He asked to die more than once, and each time his request scared me, but not for any obvious reason. What alarmed me about Martin’s death wish, both at the time and now, looking back on it, is that had it been legal to kill him, I might well have done it. I would have helped him die, not through compassion but because it would have been easier: a way out for me as well as him.
The Marris Assisted Dying (No. 2) Bill wants to legalise physician-assisted suicide and, though I have witnessed enough suffering in death to understand why, I am totally convinced that we should not. Marris insists that assisted dying will only be for the terminally ill, but I have my doubts. Every state that has introduced assisted suicide for the terminally ill has ended up using it for the mentally ill or just those tired of life.
Once you accept that doctors should help patients take their own lives, it becomes impossible to deny death from those who say they’re suffering unbearably. This is not mere ‘slippery slope’ speculation, but cliff-edge reality in those countries where doctors are already allowed to give patients the ability to jump.