Thursday, March 25, 2010

The right to die

The front page story in the Dominion-Post this morning is about disabled woman Margaret Page. She wants to die, and so is refusing food and water, effectively starving herself to death. The hospice she is in, St John of Godhome, is refusing to intervene.

And so they should be. This is fundamentally a question of autonomy. Our lives belong to us, not to someone's Invisible Sky Fairy, and certainly not to the state. It is up to us not just how we live them, but also how, when, and where we want to end them. If someone decides that the pain, suffering, or just plain boredom is more than they are willing to tolerate, then that decision should be respected, because it is theirs to make. We may feel sad, but it is not our right to interfere and force someone to live when they do not want to - that would be to deny their autonomy, and supplant their decisions with our own.

But while I respect absolutely Margaret Page's right to die (and her corresponding right to live if that is what she chooses), she shouldn't have to die this way. Starvation is a long, drawn out and unpleasant way to die. Unfortunately, thanks to politicians who do not respect personal autonomy, and who think they know better than people whether they want to live or not, it is one of the few methods available. Someone who provided her with a quicker method - an overdose of painkillers, for example - would face criminal prosecution.

This is a cruel and unjust state of affairs, and it is long past time we overturned it. Twice in the last decade brave MP's have put forward bills allowing death with dignity. It's time for someone to step up, and put forward a bill to allow people like Margaret Page the painless, humane death, and the control over their lives, that they are asking for.