The right to change your mind

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State Sen. Mark Leno, co-author of the End of Life Option bill (right), receives support from Debbie Ziegler, whose daughter, Brittany Maynard moved from the East Bay to Oregon to take advantage of the state’s Death With Dignity law. Photo: Max Whittaker

As another American state gets to grips with fielding right-to-die legislation, Joe Mathews, a Californian editor, puts forward some interesting ideas. The new legislation would allow mentally competent California residents with six months or less to live to obtain a prescription for lethal drugs they can give themselves.

But Matthews says that the most important right to protect at life’s end is not the right to die but rather the right to change your mind. He attacks the strident tone of people on both sides of the debate. You cannot demand a “right” to have something that will happen anyway. It recalls the almost equally absurd Monty Python demand in Life of Brian for a man to have the right to have babies (even if he doesn’t have a womb).

So what is this “right to die” all about? Put in a more precise way, it is the right to choose the time and manner of your own death. Nothing more, nothing less. The right of someone else not to be prosecuted if they decide to help you is a totally different right altogether. A law against assisted suicide doesn’t interfere with your rights, even if you are incapable of exercising them. It is a legal structure which can be argued as right or wrong and legislated largely according to how the particular ruling body feels about it.

In most of our waking moments, we simply wish to live. Most of us go through a superficial phase at one time or another where we imagine death. Maybe we even come to terms with the reality of our own mortality and welcome it: which is not the same as choosing it. One day, if our situation is such, perhaps through extreme old age, or unbearable and unrelievable suffering, unpersuaded by the best attempts of palliative care, one might simply change one’s mind. Instead of being a passive victim, waiting for the last trace of life to disappear, one simply decides to make the inevitable an act of will. Sadly California’s bill, like most of the American limited provisions for assisted suicide, makes no provision for the large number of people who seek assisted suicide, minority though they might be. People with motor neurone disease, or other long-term wasting diseases: for them, choice is limited indeed.

For Exit’s template on assisted suicide see here.

reference: How my grandma could solve the ‘end of life’ debate by Joe Mathews

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