Goodbye cruel world! By Trevor Plumbly
Lead kindly light!
It’s worrying when governments decide to hold a referendum. It usually means the issue could turn stale and they’re looking to shift it away from the cabinet table before it starts to smell. Most of the iffy stuff gets handled by way of a conscience vote; this theoretically allows them to express their beliefs independently of party lines without pressure from on high (yeah right!).
Sometimes though the cross-party chummy stuff wears a bit thin and their safest escape from confusion is a referendum; the old chestnut, ‘the people have spoken’ papers over a lot of cracks. On our side, we then get to suffer months of social bickering, endless opinion pieces from tabloid tarts posing as qualified experts and the unnerving feeling that we’ve been led by a bunch of people who can’t even make their own mind up, let alone ours. Some issues, it seems, are simply beyond them like ‘voluntary euthanasia’ (sounds complicated when its put like that doesn’t it?) Anyway, they’ve decided that this is a ‘moral choice’, far too lofty for them to endorse. That’s a bit puzzling too, when they seem quite happy playing God with lots of other stuff.
A bridge over troubled water
I had an elderly aunt who always held that it was ‘not polite to discuss one’s beliefs in public’. Hers was a more genteel time and such things were considered private, rather than the internet ping-pong balls they are today. Also, in Aunt Phyllis’s time, dead was an absolute, i.e. you were or you weren’t. Since then, it’s got a lot more confusing: those beloved of the paranormal have even come up with a couple of each-way bets, like ‘near death experience’ and for the more serious, ‘the out-of- body experience’. The referendum doesn’t offer these as options, which is a shame really; they seem more interesting than the good old ‘don’t know’.
‘While the balance of mind was disturbed’ used to be the clean-up phrase for suicide, but ‘voluntary euthanasia’ doesn’t go away that easy. It’s been promoted to a serious social issue and now we have to decide whether or not it’s morally or mentally okay for us to choose when to end things. We won’t feel alone though; the gap left by departing politicians will shortly be filled by religious leaders, medical practitioners and all manner of psychiatric theorists.
They shoot horses don’t they?
Through extended pain and/or loss of dignified bodily function, there are those who simply want to end it and I’m on their side. I find religious arguments against ‘taking the easy way out’ carry more historical than benevolent weight. Would a caring God not encourage someone to end their own pain and suffering and that of those close to them? We’d all like to go ‘peacefully in our sleep’, why not via medicine?
At the risk of being flippant, if those who rule the moral high ground on this one hold that heaven’s a fine and wondrous place, where’s the problem in those afflicted by life down here wanting to go up a bit early? ‘Do no harm’ is admirable, but these are more enlightened times and perhaps adding ‘and end suffering’ would allow access to a gentle exit path for those forced to wait months for release. Under those circumstances, prolonging life can scarcely be called humane. It’s odd really: if an animal is in terminal pain we ask for it to be put to sleep out of love, yet react with horror to any thought that the same sort of mercy could be extended to human beings.
The last thing on my mind
Thanks to political ablutions, we get to play God on this one and I reckon there won’t be many winners. When it comes to life and death, everybody’s got opinions and questions, but few, if any, trenchant answers. In the coming weeks, we should lay aside the inherited strictures and ask ourselves whether we’re ready to grow beyond ancient fears. Surely keeping anyone in pain to support the homily that ‘life is precious’ smacks of hypocrisy, as does wiring someone up to a machine for a prolonged period and calling it ‘life support’ instead of electronic vegetation.
This referendum is too important for religious or medical debate to influence; it is, or should be, 100% personal, requiring us to be totally honest. We need to start by asking ourselves ‘What if it were me?’ If it were me, I’d like the right to decide when I feel enough is enough, sip the single malt, swallow the ta-ta tablets and slide away peacefully. That’s the way to say goodbye.