Tue, Jan 07, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Grant people the right to die, with whisky and a pill

Advances in science are allowing people to live longer than ever, but, ironically, laws based on archaic views on the right to live deny everyone the right to die with dignity

By Margaret Drabble  /  The Guardian, LONDON

It is my hope that in my lifetime, the law will change, taking with it the fears that add so much terror to death. How wonderful it would be if we knew that we would not be obliged to contemplate the bodily and mental decay that threatens us all. That we could opt out and make our quietus, not with a bare bodkin or a plastic bag, or by jumping off the top of a multi-story car park, but with a nice glass of whisky and a pleasing pill — and so good night. How the heart would lift with joy at the good news. I do not go for Martin Amis’ suicide booths, but I am with Will Self all the way about the right to die when and how we want. When it is time to go, let us just go.

At the moment, it is not that easy.

My husband, Michael Holroyd, fondly believes that as the longest-serving patron of the Dignity in Dying campaigning organization, he will be allowed to die in peace, but no, the doctors — in mortal fear of parliament, the law, the press and the UK General Medical Council — will be slavishly working to rule and obeying orders and striving officiously to keep him alive as they observe their archaic Hippocratic oath.

It will be just like it was in the old days, when Simone de Beauvoir described her mother’s death in the ironically titled A Very Easy Death. If a woman of her intellect and clout could not prevent her mother from being hacked about by surgeons on her deathbed, what hope have we?

The best new year’s gift an aging population could receive is the right to die.

As philosopher Joseph Raz wrote: “The right to life protects people from the time and manner of their death being determined by others, and the right to euthanasia grants each person the power to choose themselves that time and manner.”

The right to die is the right to live.

Margaret Drabble is a novelist, biographer and critic.

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