With a bare bodkin…

There has been much discussion in the media about the desirability of ‘assisted dying’. The controversy over whether the Liverpool Care Pathway is a covert form of hurrying us to the grave or simply the best way to die peacefully has brought the question into the news. Before you read any further, just pause and ask yourself what percentage, do you think, of people in our population would favour a change in the law to allow this.

Opinions have recently been sought through a YouGov poll of 4000 people. This is a good-sized sample, and the YouGov methodology should give us confidence that the results are broadly accurate.

Some 16 percent were actively opposed to a change , and another 14 percent “were torn.” But, overall, seven out of ten believed that “people with ‘incurable’ illnesses should have the right to ask close friends or relatives to help them commit suicide, without the risk of those people being prosecuted.”

The main reasons given for championing “assisted dying” were the “rights” people had over their own lives, and the belief that it was better than prolonged suffering. About a third believed that the NHS could not provide decent end-of-life care.

So how do we feel about this? We all know the standard answer that our life is a gift from God and that suicide in whatever form can never be right. Do we actually believe this? Would we still believe this if we were dying in extreme pain and our relatives were willing to provide us with the, painless, fatal dose? Or if a much loved relative were to ask us to ease them out of life?

And, if we still maintained that it would be wrong, are we entitled to impose our prohibition on “assisted dying” over the rest of our society?

Telegaph report on the survey at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/10026314/NHS-fears-fuelling-support-for-assisted-suicide-poll-suggests.html

See my column ‘How they die in Liverpool’ via the search box (top right hand side).

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Bio-ethics, Moral judgment, Quentin queries and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

82 Responses to With a bare bodkin…

  1. ionzone says:

    I think the Catholic Herald has already made a few very good points about assisted dying: It will largely be used to further victimise the disabled, depressed, and people who would be better off in cognitive behavioural therapy – which you can’t even really get in this country as drugs are cheaper. There is already strong evidence that it will, and has, been used to bump off inconvenient relatives. Once it has been normalised it is likely that doctors will polity offer it as a ‘treatment’. Eventually people who don’t take it will be seen as selfishly hogging hospital beds.

    • ionzone says:

      I realise that is a bit morbid, but it is the same logical progression a lot of other things have taken.

      • tim says:

        Yes. As reported in The Times yesterday (someone left it on the train) 50% of ‘Catholics’ favour a change in the law.

        This is horrifying.

        Of course, if you phrase the question ‘do you want to die in agony?’ and imply that the only way to avoid this is to have someone kill you, it’s not too surprising that you get people to accept the idea. Personally, I don’t want to die in agony, and I don’t want a doctor to offer to kill me (or, worse, as apparently happens in Holland) decide to kill me without consulting me.. If I get a painful terminal disease, I want (and expect to get) proper pain relief and good hospice care. But I appreciate this will cost the Government money, which will be a powerful motive for them to push the idea (or at least not make too much effort to resist the lobby groups).

        This is the abortion story all over again. First the hard cases are paraded. Then we’re told that only those expected to die of incurable disease within six months will be eligible. There will be ‘strict safeguards’. Then a law will be introduced, and within a decade or so the ‘safeguards’ will be ignored as outmoded and ‘assisted death’ will become the norm. At the moment it’s only the exceptionally firm-minded who want to have themselves killed. If it becomes legal it won’t be long before it’s only the exceptionally firm-minded who will succeed in resisting this fate. Changing the law changes public opinion.

        I pray that the Catholic Church will not duck the issue (as they did in 1968) and mount a strong campaign against any change in the law. As with abortion, what we need is a bright line – no deliberate killing!

      • ionzone says:

        The funny thing is that a lot of this Liverpool Care Pathway stuff sounds an awful lot like what Harold Shipman was doing: non-consensual euthanasia of the old and vulnerable. The key difference here is that the doctor won’t be the sole beneficiary.

    • ionzone says:

      Sorry again, that sounded really icky, but it is icky stuff and they are already pulling out the ‘selfish’ card to use against people who have qualms about killing terminally ill children.

  2. Horace says:

    This is not just Catholic doctrine, I find in the Hippocratic Oath (around 400 BC) :-
    “I will not give a fatal draught to anyone if I am asked, nor will I suggest any such thing. Neither will I give a woman means to procure an abortion.”

    See also my comment on “Dealing with Dad”
    March 2, 2011 at 11:29 pm
    My own experience of this problem is limited to a single case when I was a young doctor in the early 1950′s. A patient was dying of cancer and in severe pain; I prescribed 4 hrly injections of Morphine (there were no other useful drugs available at that time) and I had to explain to Matron, who was worried about the effect that this would have on her nurses, that the object was simply to alleviate his pain. There was no question of ‘killing’ or even trying to hasten death – although this was indeed inevitable.

    • tim says:

      Horace, obviously as a doctor you understand the problems much better than the rest of us. But isn’t it true a) that the lethal dose of morphine is considerably greater than that which relieves pain b) that tolerance to morphine in use builds up (both to its toxic and pain-relieving effects) so that increasingly large doses are necessary both to relieve pain and to kill? Also, I thought that recent research indicated that use of morphine at the right dose to relieve pain didn’t hasten death but tended to delay it. Of course, I would like to believe this, so maybe I’ve misunderstood.

      It is tragic that some medical staff misunderstand the law and are in consequence unwilling to provide sufficient pain relief.

      • Horace says:

        Tim

        a) Yes – but may depend on the severity of the pain.
        b) Yes
        c ‘also’ ) I don’t know! Remember though that morphine is not only used for patients who are dying in severe pain but also for patients who are in severe pain but not (immediately) dying.

      • tim says:

        Thank you, Horace.
        I found this quotation online at http://www.life.org.nz/euthanasia/euthanasiafaq1 . “In the vast majority, morphine is life-enhancing and life-extending, not life-shortening.”

        The author is Robert Twycross: “Macmillan Clinical Reader in Palliative Medicine, University of Oxford and Director of the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Palliative Cancer Care. He is [allegedly] an international authority on pain control in cancer. Among his many publications is ‘Oral Morphine: Information for Patients, Families and Friends’ (Beaconsfield Publishers, Beaconsfield 1991).”

      • Horace says:

        Tim
        Thank you for the reference.
        It is a simple clear essay and I would agree with the conclusions entirely.

  3. Mike Horsnall says:

    Its a good question and as you say we all know the standard answer. One sees some pretty miserable sights going round the hospitals and I have pondreed this myself. I think the answer is that it depends a bit on circumstance and individual…it also depends quite a bit on the availibility of decent care. Good hospice care is the ideal solution but like you say expensive and I wouldnt want to die alone, confused, in agony and between soiled bed sheets.

    • Mike Horsnall says:

      Sorry, forgot a bit. I also ponder the question because every several years I suffer crippling bouts of clinical depression which leave me frankly suicidal. Were it not for good medication I don’t know quite what I would have done and faced with the possibility of remaining permanently in such a state I would almost certainly have killed myself or begged for the painless means to do so had they been available. My own view is that suicide is not itself a crime and possibly not always a great sin-but it is not to be encouraged either.

      • ionzone says:

        I am sorry to hear that, and you are right. Suicide is not a crime, but it is an act of desperation taken at a point when a person may see no other option, even though said options exist. For example, bridge jumpers who are stopped and talked down tend not to try again. Getting rid of an easy means to death, like hand-guns or toxic gas ovens, often drops the bottom out of the suicide statistics. If ending your life is as simple and painless as pulling a gun out of a draw and pulling the trigger a lot more people do it.

        To go back to the child thing – how much convincing would it take to get a little eight-year-old girl screaming in pain from a broken finger or arm to agree to a lethal dose of something? Not much I’m betting. The reason I ask this specific question is because it opens up the root of the problem of vulnerable people being talked into dying. And part of that problem is that the child would never really get much of a say in their assisted death, ultimately it would be their carer’s decision. Add in the massive amount of emotional “how could you let them suffer if you love them?!” pressure from a group of people who see any pain as too much pain and any pleasure as not enough pleasure (i.e., ‘humanists’) and you have a parent who is likely to make the kind of decision that in any other circumstances would land them in prison forever.

        And this is even before we get to the real victims in all this – the disabled and elderly. My gran has been a devout Christian all her life and is still healthy, independent and active at ninety one. Lets say, however, that she has very little money and purely because of that she is now fully dependant on her children for support. In this situation it would take precisely two seconds to convince her that she was a horrible person for being such a burden on her poor children and the honourable thing to do would be end it all somehow. And that is before doctors, schools, and so on are required by law, as they are with abortion, to tell vulnerable people about assisted dying. And even that is before the assisted dying clinics get advertisement slots on the radio and telly. Remember, if you aren’t being injected with a lethal cocktail of painkillers and sedatives they aren’t making money out of you.

        Turn the situation around and lets say that my gran has piles of money saved up from her lifetime of hard work, but that she has trouble getting around and has mild dementia. The worst the family can do at the moment, short of actual murder, is to shove her in a mangy care home. Remember, the adverts for those things are aimed at the kids who want to unload poor old mum without too much associated guilt. The only thing they have to change to get gran, who is still perfectly intelligent and capable, apart from her hip and her struggle with memory, in one of their killing beds is to sell the dream of a ‘dignified’ death surrounded by friends and family. the family now have a way to get their hands on her cash and gran, with their constant prodding, feels like she’s doing her duty as a loving parent.

        Now imagine it’s a physically very healthy but mentally disabled kid with severe autism or downs who just barely understands what death is and has no real clue why the nice smiling nurse is holding a tube and just wants to see their arm for a second, don’t worry this won’t hurt a bit, oh look mum is crying but she is sure this is the best thing to do and maybe now they can have a kid who isn’t quite such a massive burden on them…..

        They already abort kids with easily correctable cleft lips, so it really is no leap at all to say that they might have a disabled kid put down if it was normalised.

      • Singalong says:

        Mike, I have been there too, several times, and the temptation is very great. It would be just as great for me in a situation of physical pain and distress also, and easier to rationalise I think as other Comments have described.

        Another aspect which I wonder about, is the cost of good hospice care, or a really good care home, and whether I could justify using any money or assets we might have, to pay very high fees, rather than take a chance on less expensive basic care. Is more comfort and dignity in old age, more important than feeding people who are starving. Of course it should not have to be a choice, but while the world is run by finance, it is, and looks as if this will continue indefinitely and get worse.

      • Horace says:

        Ionzone
        Suicide “is an act of desperation taken at a point when a person may see no other option”
        In my [limited] experience suicide is often simply a cry for help. Again, when I was a young doctor I had as patients a number of young people who had attempted suicide,
        At that time suicide WAS a crime in law (or to be more precise a felony). There was, obviously, not much that could be done about successful suicides but ‘attempted suicide’ had by law to be reported to the police. This I refused to do on grounds of medical confidence.

        Another cause for suicide that I have encountered is in patients with Schizophrenia, often a deeply distressing condition, and here it is indeed ‘an act of desperation’ although I hope that modern treatment may help.

    • tim says:

      Who would want to die like that? But everyone knows that killing people is much cheaper than looking after them properly – and the economic situation, etc., etc.. You are proposing a false choice, and thereby easing the path for those who want to legalise euthanasia – with foreseeably appalling results . Please don’t!

  4. Vincent says:

    Hard cases make bad law, they say. But they do not point out that when the law allows of no exceptions it must still apply in hard cases. The woman who was condemned for adultery was out of order. But Christ accepted her without denying the objective sinfulness of adultery.

    So here is a hard case. Imagine someone, who, by whatever cause, is in deep and permanent paralysis – and cannot communicate except with eye flickers for yes or no. He has clearly indicated that he is in continual pain (not relieved by drugs) and, seeing the prospect of about 30 years of living hell, he wants to be helped to die.

    Would you not be tempted? Might you not say: ‘I am helping my relation out of this because I love him.’ Might you not take the chance of Christ saying: ‘I do not condemn you – go and sin no more’?

    • Advocatus Diaboli says:

      Ah, Vincent — thou dost almost persuade me to be a Christian! Your friends seem to be very Old Testament — what matters to them is the law. If I understand your Christ, he seems to me to be more concerned with loving people than with ticking the right boxes.

      • ionzone says:

        The law for me is something that should be made to reflect what is right rather than something that is right because it is the law.

        @ Vincent – it is always tempting to take the easy way out of a situation and make a law for the help of a few that causes problems for everyone. I remember a case from only last week of a woman who was paralysed except for her eyelid for years, but who can now move everything except her legs. Had assisted suicide been around it is very likely that she no longer would be.

      • ionzone says:

        Which is to say that I agree with Diaboli on this one.

      • tim says:

        I don’t understand your point, AD (May 3, 2013 at 9:26 am). Christ said “Go and sin no more”, not “Go and in future feel free to disregard outworn shibboleths like chastity”. On another occasion, He said “I am not come to destroy the law, but to fulfil it”. Forgiveness of sins committed against the law is entirely different from abrogating the law itself. I admit fully that in a hard case any of us might be tempted to ignore the law (I’m talking about the moral law, not State law, which is important but secondary) – but I hope we would not yield to the temptation. What is dangerous is not mercy for people who do yield, but the attempt to deny that there should be any such law in the first place. It is this that Ionzone and I fear. There is tremendous pressure to change State law, and it is vital to resist it.

      • Singalong says:

        I certainly do not think the law should be changed to allow full choice about death, but I have read good and bad accounts of the LCP in theory and in practice. For those doctors and nurses who are genuinely trying to provide the best care for their patients, the guidelines to me, as a non medical person, seem very reasonable.

        The difficulty seems to be mainly in being sure that the end of life IS near. When it is, trying to make people eat, when their systems are shutting down, is not good care, though I am sure water should always be available, just moistening my mother`s mouth and lips was some relief for her during her last hours. It seems cruel to try to prolong the live of feeble, elderly patients with intrusive and painful procedures such as heart resuscitation, or even too much medication. Do we know what constitutes “unusual” in the 21st century? Are we allowed to make our own distinctions at the time, or if we make “living wills?” Letting people die is not killing them. And shortening a life with pain relief must always have presented difficulties of judgement.

        About 20 years ago, I was visiting an elderly lady in hospital.. She was clearly dying, and all I could really do, as well as pray, was to hold and rub her feet which were very cold and causing her distress. I was struck by the callousness of the system, when a young girl came round with her form for patients` meals choices, and tried to insist on getting an answer from a lady who had no more interest in food in this world. She obviously had not been told anything about individual patients beforehand.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Vincent.
      But what if the woman who committed adultery had said ‘yes’. my husband condemns me ,my children condemns me, the wife of the man I committed adultery with, his children condemn me .
      I wonder if Jesus would have given the same answer.?
      I have asked this question before! But no one has given me an answer, Maybe AD will now.

      • Advocatus Diaboli says:

        You tell me, St.Joseph. Does your Jesus canvas opinion and then take his lead from the majority view, or does he make his own decisions which he hopes others will follow? Answer that and you’ll never have to ask that question again.

      • tim says:

        St J, I don’t think you’re taking the circumstances into account. You can condemn what people do in the abstract, without any immediate effect. Or (if you are a judge) you may put on a black cap and condemn them to death. It is the latter sort of condemnation that is in question here. Jesus wasn’t saying “Does nobody disapprove of what you did?” (a question which the woman might well have answered as you suggest). He is saying “Then nobody is prepared to carry out the death sentence that the law prescribes for what you did?”. That question could only be answered No.

  5. Mike Horsnall says:

    Goodness me AD you’ve finally said something sensible!!!

    • St.Joseph says:

      Advocatus Diaboli.
      I asked the question because I wanted to know what others thought as that same question of the woman committing adultery has come up before.
      Now as you have asked my opinion I will answer and not back away from it as others have.
      Jesus’ answer would have been the same , ‘go and sin no more’, but maybe He would have enlarged on it and not left it at that. at..Those doing the stoning were also committing a sin,by stoning her-because the law said to do so, However I believe He would point out that it went a lot deeper than her sin, she has a responsibility to society, our sins leave a mark on it and we all have that responsibility and duty to others.
      This may not explain it very well, but it is not all black and white.
      Of course Jesus’ forgives us but we have to make up for what we have done to others.
      How this will be seen as the law for euthanasia , is self explanatory, it will affect society if it becomes law., like abortion as the comments above say.
      .

  6. ionzone says:

    It turns out what I said earlier has a gained an utterly terrifying note of reality:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cornwall-22403852

  7. St.Joseph says:

    Ion Zone. So right so right!

  8. Mike Horsnall says:

    “Now as you have asked my opinion I will answer and not back away from it as others have…”

    St Joseph,
    I don’t think people back away from your questions, rather that you couch them in such a way as to make them so opaque that they cannot be understood or answered. The point about conseqences beyond the individual is an interesting one and most certainly Gods concerns in the bible are generally beyond the individual-the crucifixion being a case in point!! Jesus still would not have condemmed the woman but his imperative ‘go ans sin no more’ could perhaps have been interpreted as “Now pack it in and pull yourself together girl…”?

    • St.Joseph says:

      Mike Horsnall.
      I disagree with you .
      Firstly What was so opaque about my question, if you say something you disagree with please give the example as to why it is opaque..
      Secondly, Jesus would condemn in my opinion the effect of ours sins on others.
      We are all judged individually on the sins we commit but I believe more so on how it will affect others, an example being to save it being ‘opaque” to you and others.Condoms are not permitted as a contraception-however the contraceptives used that causes an abortion is more serious.as it destroys a human life that is sacred.
      Is that clear enough to to!!!!

  9. Mike Horsnall says:

    St Joseph:

    “…But what if the woman who committed adultery had said ‘yes’. my husband condemns me ,my children condemns me, the wife of the man I committed adultery with, his children condemn me .
    I wonder if Jesus would have given the same answer.?
    I have asked this question before! But no one has given me an answer, Maybe AD will now…”

    I don’t want to debate things with you because it doesnt work but I will try once more to explain.

    When I look at the text copied above I simply have no idea about the drift of your thought. OF course its plain to you- because you wrote it and know what you mean. But I have honestly not a clue as to what you are getting at or what you want. if you began that paragraph with a line like this:
    : “Sin also has a social cost though doesnt it? For example the family of the woman taken in adultery harmed several people didnt she? What do you think Jesus thought about that collective hurt? He told the woman to behave herself and not to sin which seems to mean she had to make things right…….”

    If you explained yourself, just a little, then your questions would be much easier to answer ST Joseph-they are often quite interesting questions as it happens. There is your explaination together with the example you asked for.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Mike.
      Me female, you male.
      God made us last because males could not work things out for themselves, he needed a female to show them how!
      That’s my excuse and I am sticking to it.
      I thought you would have been able to work it out, simple enough to me.!..

  10. St.Joseph says:

    Singalong.
    I have just read your comment above.
    What you say is the teaching of the Church, also never to withhold water.
    We had quite a long discussion on this a long while back on SS, and I was involved with St Joseph’s Hospice. who were fighting against EXIT who were involved with euthanasia. We were giving talks in schools in the name of EXIST.opposing EXIT who were speaking in local schools at the time.I know one lady who took pills as she had breast cancer who was listening to someone who was telling her end her life. It is criminal to my mind, especially in Secondary schools where teenagers are most vulnerable with exams. I have been to meetings where the doctor (I have forgotten his name , I have all the papers somewhere I am sure you will know) who came to the UK to give talks and to show people how the machine worked.

  11. St.Joseph says:

    Tim.
    Thank you you for your reply, but it is really all assumption.
    No one did condemn as she said.But the answer could have been yes.
    The point being our sins do effect others, we are not on our own,unless it is in secret and no one is hurt..
    I could make the example of traffic laws, where a person goes through a red light be it an Ambulance or police or someone desperately in a hurry and no traffic is coming the other way,maybe early hours of the morning-no one gets hurt,however the law has been broken. If by chance some one does get hurt the the situation is different.Then the driver will be sentenced a lot harder,especially if someone dies.
    That is all the point I was making-no big deal.
    The women need only have said Yes- I just made the example of the people she mentioned.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Just to add a little thought to this scenario.
      We are meant to forgive the sinner,but only God can forgive the sin., which the priest does in the Sacrament of Confession, when he absolves us from our sins.
      Now a child abuser we are meant to forgive them, but only God can forgive the sin, all the more reason for repentance..Jesus could do that when He did not condemn the women in adultery.
      If we don’t believe in that we might as well forget about the Sacrament.
      Even if the Law makes Euthanasia legal, that does not mean it makes it right.
      Jesus did ‘Go show yourselves to the priest’.

    • tim says:

      St J., I’m sure that we don’t fundamentally disagree about this (so why do I go on about it?). But I don’t think your suggestion that the woman could have replied differently works. Like a good barrister, Our Lord never asks this sort of question unless he knows the answer already (“Whose image and superscription is this?”). Everyone condemns adultery: the Pharisees, her husband, the woman herself, Our Lord. But no-one – here – is willing to condemn the woman to the extent of putting her to death. It is a shining demonstration of the rule – hate the sin, love the sinner.
      Your analogy with traffic laws is interesting. Normally going through a red light does no immediate harm (though if a policeman catches you at it, you may be punished mildly). Sometimes it causes a serious accident, or a death. Does your degree of guilt depend solely on the result? If you make a habit of running red lights, you greatly increase your chances of doing serious harm. Is the evil the possibility of harm, or the ignoring of the rule (or both, and in what proportion?)? I think your analogy suggests that there is virtue in observing proper rules for their own sake. This does not mean that all rules are absolute, always to be followed in all circumstances. It does mean that we should be careful about replacing well-recognised rules by our own judgement – particularly when the rules are laid down by God rather than the Road Traffic Acts.

      • Singalong says:

        I do not think that the degree of guilt depends at all on the result. I could pull the trigger to shoot someone dead, and if the pistol misfires I would be just as guilty.
        The question of good example is involved as well in running red lights, making it more likely that others observing will follow suit on the same or other occasions, for which I would be partially to blame.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Tim you make some good points, but.Jesus said ‘even if a man looks at a women with lust in his eyes he has already committed adultery in his heart ( I take that it also means a female). Is that sin equal to the act, I don’t believe it is.Obviously continuing to do so will end up in the act. Like your red light comparison.There again we can go deeper into this, where lust and love are concerned. Someone may commit adultery,but not necessarily be guilty of lust-if one is truly in love. Or would you take it as meaning the same. That is what I meant by everything not being black and white.God knows the heart of man.and will be our judge.So He judged the woman as to what He knew of her, I presume.
        But then what is sin then?To me it is an act of disobedience to Gods Will.But there are those who do not know Gods will.To some even euthanasia and abortion are right., same sex marriage are right etc.
        I understand that stoning to death was the law,but we don’t know what Jesus thought was the greater wrong, the stoning or the adultery! Those stoning were sinners too.But that does not excuse people from carrying out there duties , we are all sinners. Was Jesus making that point?

  12. Iona says:

    I think most doctors would not be prepared to kill patients. And personally, I would not want to be treated – for anything – by a doctor who would be willing to kill a patient.

    • tim says:

      Let’s hope you’re right. Though (should it come to it) do not underestimate the effect of changing the law, and propaganda about wicked professionals who seek to impose their own personal and irrational views on patients who they are discriminating against by failing to respect their autonomy (again, compare what’s happened with abortion)..

      I agree absolutely about treatment. If euthanasia does come in, maybe we can rely on consumer rights. If (as some claim) we are entitled to know whether our food contains GM, are we not equally entitled to know which of our doctors are prepared to kill? Personally, I think that the profession should then be divided (as lawyers are divided into solicitors and barristers) into doctors who always seek to save life and those who are prepared to kill. The latter should be termed Thanatologists (and be obliged to wear black coats, rather than white ones).

  13. Iona says:

    I also think that most people who tick a “yes” box in answer to a question about whether euthanasia / assisted suicide should be permitted in law have not thought through the scenario; have not considered what sort of society we would become.

  14. Iona says:

    As for questions about the cost of caring for disabled people, or having the terminally ill given palliative care in a hospice as opposed to hurrying them down the road, – how does the cost compare with the cost of other things we as a society pay for? Maintaining a nuclear deterrent, for example?

  15. Singalong says:

    Iona, my mention of the cost involved in the provision of better quality care was intended to be about the difficulty for an individual making that choice, when they cannot afford it, or think it might be selfish, given that our society does not think it important enough, as you imply.

  16. Mike Horsnall says:

    If we think of an ideal death it is probably a very quick one, perhaps given a week or so to put our affairs in order then finish-painless. I don’t think this happens that much. I once read that one persons in six can expect to end their days in some form of care or another,I’m not sure about this but it would indicate that most of us still die at home. The issue of hospitals and care homes is much in the news at the moment and we are all becoming aware that for many of us the milk of human kindness is lacking a little towards the end of things; its a bit hard to imagine a society where that dignified death we deem so desirable is even possible given the size of the task and the nature of human beings. So even as we mentally construct an ‘ideal’ society where death is completely sanitised it is hard not to come to the conclusion that prolonged ‘care’ also has a hidden cost of brutality to society -as has euthanasia. Personally I think we have to keep the aim of dignity in death regardless, on the other hand there is the emotional and financial cost of long term ‘care’ that must be born by the family and relatives-which is the flip side of St Josephs point about Jesus and the woman taken in adultery.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Mike, I am not sure if you mean the flip side being the expense to the families.
      However you are right in saying the family may have to take responsibility,and not all families are going to .But as far as the financial cost ,unless it changes ,the elderly are looked after financially in care at the moment..As far as it being a strain on the Government, it is something I feel should be taken into account with all other expenses for the elderly, as they are the ones who have paid there insurance stamps over the years.I don’t use my bus pass very often, but will use it if I have too. I paid for it ,working since 15. there is a lot of discussion at the moment regarding people giving it back-why should they?Also the delicate subject about selling ones house to pay for care, when others who have spent their money ,can get it free..These are things I feel are unfair at times with benefits.and need to be looked at more closely.
      The rich get rich and the poor get poorer,however I would like my family to benefit from my hard work,as they have looked after me and my husband when need be. and will do so.
      This may be very unchristian,but there is so much wasted today through lack of those who do not want to economize for their future- it is a ‘ must have now’ society we live in, so why should I and my family pay for others who don’t do what we older people did ‘ Do and make mend.or mend and make do.. I would rather give my money to the real poor
      and needy!

    • tim says:

      Mike, two points – one trivial, one less so.

      First the trivial one. Please don’t talk about ‘dignity in death’. This is the language of the euthanasiasts. By seeking trade mark rights (literally!) in the phrase “Dignity in Dying” they try to promote the view, first, that such dignity is obtainable (which is doubtful) and secondly, that euthanasia is the only practical way of obtaining it. By controlling the language, they control the agenda. Don’t let them!

      More importantly, however, is cost. I think, on this blog, we agree that financial cost isn’t the point. (But though not a reason, it will be a powerful motive for Governments to promote – or not to resist – euthanasia. Long term care of the elderly is so expensive!). What about the human cost? That is more difficult. You must be right about about the human cost. But can we allow that to weigh in the balance? Sometimes the only alternatives are to behave heroically or very badly (for example, under torture). If we say that euthanasia is unacceptable, we must be ready to offer alternatives (as with abortion).

  17. Singalong says:

    My father had a copy of R.H. Benson`s Lord of the World, which I remember reading when I was quite young, and did not understand all of it, but the description of Mabel`s euthanasia made a deep impression.

    It does look as if some of his predictions are more than likely to be fulfilled. If euthanasia does become the norm for the elderly and disabled, Christians strong enough to resist must expect the lowest level of care and support, if any, from the State. It will naturally be considered that anyone so selfish does not deserve its time or resources.

    • tim says:

      Yes, it’s an interesting book. My wife recently got a copy (it’s available on the Internet) and it was fascinating to read it. It’s an early example of science fiction about the (then) future – the characters rush around Europe by high-speed Zeppelin.

  18. Mike Horsnall says:

    ST Joseph,
    I didnt neccesarily mean financial cost-I meant the emotional strain, the deeply buried hatreds and abusive relationships which can form when families are left to care for their elderly alone. I would guess that the strain of caring for elderly parents could well be the breaking point for some- well I don’t just suspect , I know this to be true. I’ve only seen the tip of this hidden cost through working for samaritans but I guess there are some statistics somewhere. Everything has a cost,.be it euthanasia or care.

    • Singalong says:

      Mike, Melvyn Bragg seems to be the latest high profile pundit to throw his hat into the ring with the announcement of his plans to take his own life if dementia sets in.

      As you say, it is a huge problem, probably often more for the carers than for the sufferer, especially in a family which does not receive adequate extra support. This should be a high priority, along with research into the causes and prevention of dementia. There is not much point in steering us clear of heart attacks, and pneumonia and other infections just so that we can have many extra demented years.

      That being said, while the current situation still operates, we can try and look on each life as offerring its own unique work for God, and only He knows what that is, maybe at the end leading others into the virtues of patience and generosity, which must be truly saintly and heroic at times.

      • Mike Horsnall says:

        Singalong:
        I don’t think there are many easy answers to all this. I would hate to see euthanasia legalised -for all the reasons people have raised. But that doesn’t mean I think people should be prosecuted willy nilly for their quiet acts of selflessness which may involve them with helping a loved one to leave a life of torment. In many ways it is easier for Catholics -we have the prohibition and the religious conviction as a check on our behaviour. Many on here rail against euthanasia on account of its fascist connotations-but I don’t believe blanket condemnation helps very much and I do think that sometimes people live quite heroic lives of care which culminate in some form of ‘mercy killing’ which is aptly named.
        Tim:
        Can’t help but notice your devotion to ‘please don’ts’… Perhaps you could apply to Quentin for the job of language monitor and aptitude assessor? Then we could really get somewhere with this blog- clean up our act and really sock it to em etc etc etc.

      • Quentin says:

        MH — I wouldn’t have one for the world. Think how much one learns about a correspondent from their use of language in all respects. I have little mental images of everyone — but I’m quite happy not to check out the reality. Here’s a question: are we the same person on the blog as we are in real life?

  19. Nektarios says:

    It is written, “Thou shalt not kill”, that is, human beings are not to kill each other.
    Why did God Almighty, knowing all things, give man such a law as “Thou shalt not kill?
    Simply this, Man will kill ,and has done from the beginning.God can judge, and make no mistake, will judge. any that kills another human being, no matter what the pretext for doing so is.
    Man is violent, loves violence, makes wars and killing machines of the most diabolical kind as WMDs
    (Weapons of Mass Destruction).Man will go on killing each other until the Lord comes again, and the killing is going to get worse around the world.

    The medical ethics issues of euthanasia, and hard cases as mentioned are not kindness personified,
    but violence towards another.
    The moral blackmail to allow euthanasia, is sick to say the least, not only morally backrupt ,but ethically
    deficient also. Science with their treatments and drugs, join in to make killing appear more humane.
    To insist on euthanasia, to killing another human being, we say with great alacratity these days, it is normal, it is caring, it is ecomonical and so on and on, but such who propose such measures have not a clue what death actually is, no not even doctors do. They know the physical signs of death approaching,
    can almost give a time when death will occur, but what death actually is, they don’t know. Our understanding of death is limited to asscociation between a living thing, a tree, a flower, an animal or a person.

    It is not without reason God places His Law within our hearts, `Thou shalt not kill’. In killing another human being, such a perpertrator does not understand all that is going on at the time, all that is involved for the individual and their transition to the next world.
    Another aspect to why God says to mankind, as Creator, `Thou shalt not kill’ is, your fellow man are His. It is not for us to kill our fellow man.
    Killing is a violence, no matter how we dress it up. Killing by Governments is expediency, Murder or individualls killing each other is madness, often mindless and always criminal.
    God seeing all, knowing all judges accordingly according to his Laws. We are playing a deadly game thinking our petty reasoning will carry any weight at all in killing another human being.
    If we all understood this, this world would have peace, but ignores God and His Laws and so the killing goes on.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Quentin.
      I can honestly say I am not the same person as others see me on the blog.
      Many who I socialize with, don’t know I am a catholic, but my principles are always the same, of course there is no reason to discuss them.
      SS for me is a way of expressing my beliefs and we have the opportunity to express them . People will know.by how we live out faith and how we speak about it, when it is necessary to do so.It is our responsibility to evangelize, it is how we do it.,
      The blog to me is challenging and I find it has taught me a lot.
      I would not put my views forward as on the blog.It would not be appropriate .

      • Mike Horsnall says:

        Hmmmmm,

        I think I’m pretty much on here as I am in normal life- cranky and confrontational!! Most of the things I’ve talked about on here I will have talked over with others-non catholics particularly as I tend to talk to non religious people about religion more that I talk to catholics-I also talk about catholicism to other non catholic christians. If I want to know something about faith issues I have the seminary and a spiritual director to turn to. I like to chat things over with priests at seminary to get feel for how they tick.Overall this site is helpful in an oblique sort of way. Since I’m not a very ‘catholic’ it has been useful to see how you all interact and the way you think and feel about things.

  20. St.Joseph says:

    Mike Horsnall.
    You are in the right place to discuss ,and as you are training to be a Deacon, others will take on board what you say. Also you have the responsibility to teach what the Church teaches.You will be listened to.
    When someone who is the ‘man in the street’ speaks it is considered to be their opinion.
    A meeting I went to a couple of weeks ago subject ‘Sexual ethics’ and Catholic Social Teaching’
    ‘the subject which we discussed the week after the meeting’ on SS I thought SS to be more effective than the one I went to. First of all there were not many there,especially for a Diocesan Day,,I had an opportunity to speak , and it was a very interesting day but sad that it was not heard by many.
    So Second Sight Blog is far more informative for a discussion I find people listen, but like in our ordinary life we do have to be careful to keep to the standard that Quentin expects on the blog.
    It is difficult at times as passions creep in .
    I have always attended meetings, but not so anymore, except the one a few weeks ago, as it was of particular interest to me.
    I often say this, ‘that more time on our faith ought to be taught in schools, studied, discussed, and understood starting, with the Catechism of the Catholic Church’.

  21. tim says:

    Mike, (May 7, 2013 at 2:16 pm)
    You delicately hint that I have become inappropriately bossy. I fear you are right, and I apologise. This blog is for discussion of what the law should be, not for laying it down.

    Nevertheless (there’s always a ‘nevertheless’) I hope you will consider what I say. “Please don’t” may be considered as a peremptory order (which is why I shouldn’t have said it, and must avoid it in future). It may also be understood as a polite request (compare Australian “I’ll gedgeter”, translated as “ I should be so grateful if you would”). Please (polite request) take it in that sense!

    In a further attempt to excuse my incivility, I plead the particular importance and current urgency of the topic. We are in the middle of a major push to normalise euthanasia in the UK. Daily on the television we are treated to sob stories and hard cases. The BBC takes no notice of guidelines against dramatising suicide, thus directly leading to copycat tragedies. Lord Falconer (he of the ‘independent commission’) is about to introduce another bill (tomorrow, actually). In these circumstances, the immediate danger is not that miserable and overstrained relatives will be prosecuted for yielding to the pleas of their dying loved ones (this is about as likely as a Marie Stopes clinic being prosecuted for infringing the Abortion Act). It is that the law will be changed – and that once the law is changed, the floodgates will open.

    It is deeply depressing that the will among Catholics to resist this push is so feeble – positively Laodicean. Yes, it is a complex and difficult subject (the Liverpool Pathway, for example, is not half so straightforward as the ‘Daily Mail’ makes out). What is not at all difficult or complex is the idea that any change in the law should be resisted. Once there is a crack in the door, it will be levered fully open. In my (highly judgemental) view, failure forcefully to resist this message (whether by ‘while on the one hand, yet on the other’ or by posing extreme situations suggesting the need for change) is culpable. ‘He who is not against us is with us’ (says Lord Falconer). “If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall go forth to the battle?”

  22. Rahner says:

    “will among Catholics to resist this push is so feeble”
    Do you seriously think that the Catholic/Christian community in the UK is in a position to prevent changes to legislation???

  23. tim says:

    Rahner, you provide a definitive example of what I am complaining about. Do you recall the speech of the English general who led a motley ragtag of unarmed ruffians by forced march overnight against a large Scots army well-established at the top of a hill. “At the top of the hill, gentlemen, you will find a few sharp stones. You should each select one, and then, I think, you will know how to proceed!” And you recall the outcome?

    • Rahner says:

      I imagine that most Catholics would agree with MH (May 7 , 2:16) in thinking that those involved in assisted dying should not be prosecuted in every case.

      • tim says:

        And rightly so. The police (I think) always have a discretion not to prosecute (and may not do so, for example, if careless driving by one family member results in the death of another). This is current law and practice, which should not be changed.

    • Rahner says:

      Surely it is the CPS and not the police?
      Also I imagine that some Catholics opposed to prosecution in these cases also take the view that assisted dying is not always morally wrong.

      • tim says:

        Yes – that would be more correct. Delete ‘police’, substitute ‘authorities’. I’m sure you’re right about ‘some Catholics’ too – but doubt that they are.

  24. tim says:

    I would have liked the job of Blog Monitor (correcting grammar, mistypings, fundamental misconceptions and so on) but I can see that it doesn’t chime with Quentin’s vision. I’m sure we are different people on this blog from what we are elsewhere. To a great extent it’s the environment – in different environments we behave differently (or I do, at least). In the flesh I am modest, retiring and shy – my wife carries the conversation, while I try to look wise and think of something deep to say. This often works quite well until I open my mouth.

  25. Singalong says:

    Tim, thank you for a good laugh, you have a great sense of humour, and as far as I am concerned, you certainly write wisely and deeply.

    • Singalong says:

      PS Your general, with his motley ragtag of unarmed ruffians, and the sharp stones, can you describe the outcome for those of us who do not recall it?!

      • Mike Horsnall says:

        Yes, I am keen for a bit of context on that one too…the only chap I can think of is the Grand old Duke of York and I’m sure it wasn’t him!

      • tim says:

        Ah. Yes. I’m glad you asked that question.

        My account is derived from oral tradition (I heard it somewhere once and had the impression it was quite well-known). Having posted it (omitting or inventing such minor details as I did not remember) I thought to verify it on the Internet. So far I have not been able to. I can’t find the quotation in any form. Moreover, a review of Scottish battles has not turned up any likely candidates. Is it a true story? – I thought so, but I’m no longer sure. True or not, it illustrates my point. But my previous post should be read as if ‘story’ were substituted for ‘speech’.

        But (finally to answer your question) the attacking force, armed only with sharp stones, was victorious against all the odds.

  26. Singalong says:

    Tim, thank you, and yes, it did seem likely that the ruffians, especially Englishmen! must have been victorious. It was the process rather than the outcome I was really wondering about, how they could get up the hill under the noses of a well drawn up force, let alone pick up sharp stones and hurl them upwards. What other surprising factor could have come to their aid!

    Never mind, the moral of the story is quite obvious, so we must not give up, or be too disheartened in trying to keep our laws within a Christian framework, however dark the prospect.

    • tim says:

      Yes. This story was told by a management consultant at a company team-building exercise. His point (now mine) was that morale was key to success in any kind of conflict. There may have been other factors, supposing the story to be history as well as parable.

  27. St.Joseph says:

    The Apostles also St John the Baptist began their journey preaching the Crucifixion death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, His proclamation at the Last Supper, our salvation ,and the Holy Spirit.
    Maybe if we as Christians preached ‘Christ Risen’ would it be more in line as to what Jesus came to preach , after all He did not cure everyone, and ran away when the sick followed Him.
    Many Christians would return to their Churches and have more of a clout when it came to changing laws which are against our beliefs.
    Our Blessed Mothers messages are pertinent for the the saving of souls.
    Just a thought,and interested as to what others think about the true meaning of evangelism.

  28. Iona says:

    A secularist outlook on morality more-or-less has to be hedonistic, and Lord Falconer (and others) are good at applying hedonism to “hard cases” in arguing for assisted suicide and euthanasia. Secularists simply don’t recognise the moral underpinning in which Christians (and Jews, and Muslims, and probably Hindus and Buddhists as well) are rooted. This makes it difficult for Christians to argue against them, except by pointing out the likely long-term effects on society as a whole.
    The difficulty becomes all the greater when the secular / hedonistic outlook seeps into the mindset of churchgoing Christians; – not to mention those who rarely or never practice their faith but still proclaim themselves Christians.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Iona.
      Your last sentence above ‘The difficulty becomes all the greater etc; that is why I thought it might be more advantageous to evangelize Christians.In the thought that we all sing from the same hymn sheet.We expect the way we worship to differ but our morality ought to be the same when we preach ‘Christ’ is Risen..
      That way we would ‘maybe’ have a stronger message in numbers to uphold Gods Laws.
      The Commandments are still pertinent .

    • Rahner says:

      “A secularist outlook on morality more-or-less has to be hedonistic,”
      Rubbish. I suggest you read some elementary moral philosophy……….in your case very elementary…….

      • Vincent says:

        That’s funny, Rahner, because in fact I have read a little moral philosophy. if I go back to the Greeks I find Epicurus who, for all intents and purposes took no notice of the gods, arguing the view that the best life was one which sought pleasure and avoided pain. I would call him hedonistic. If I come forward to modern moral philosophy, I find Bentham and Mill preaching utilitarianism which is essentially hedonistic in arguing that maximising happiness is the fundamental moral measurement. I suspect that utilitarianism, under a wealth of different names, is almost universal among our near-pagan brethren. It is certainly favoured by abortionists who argue that the baby doesn’t suffer (or perhaps only a little) and the mother is made much happier by getting rid of the nuisance.
        As Quentin pointed out recently, Anscombe showed that all modern philosophy was philosophically bankrupt because it defended a moral law without noticing that it had already thrown out the lawgiver.

    • Rahner says:

      Hedonism has been subject to extensive criticism from Plato to Nozick. Utilitarianism has also been severely criticised from a variety of viewpoints e.g., from a Kantian position and from an analytical position e.g., Bernard Williams. And I don’t believe it would be reasonable to claim that, for example, the work of Rawls, Parfit or Foot was “philosophically bankrupt”……whatever that might mean.

  29. Iona says:

    Quentin’s question: are we the same person on the blog as we are in real life?
    To some extent I’m a slightly different person in every different setting, and with every different group of people i have to do with. But blogs – where all I have to present myself with is the printed word (no body language, no hesitations and backtracking, doesn’t matter what I’m wearing as no-one can see) – are wonderful for allowing me to present a narrowed-down version of myself, tailored to the audience and to what I want them to know of me.

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