Saturday, 8 September 2012

"Right to die": an invented right

 The news media are today reporting that a health minister newly promoted in the recent Cabinet/Government reshuffle has said, in the context of terminally ill people, that "you have a right to kill yourself". It is interesting to note the different emphases of the BBC reporting and that in the Telegraph. The front page report, and published interview on inside pages, in the Times are behind their paywall, so I am not able to link to them. The penultimate paragraph of the interview in the print edition reads as follows:
Ms Soubry has always been a "firm supporter" of the Abortion Act and backs the introduction of gay marriage. She also thinks there is a case for reforming the law on assisted suicide. "I think it's ridiculous and appalling that people have to go abroad to end their life instead of being able to end their life at home. You can't say to a doctor or a nurse, 'Kill this person' but ... you have a right to kill yourself. The rules that we have about who we don't prosecute allow things to happen but there's a good argument that we should be a bit more honest about it".
Though it is not clear what Ms Soubry thinks the terms of a reformed law should be, I would challenge her to justify the claim that there is such a thing as a right to kill to yourself. When asserted in the public domain, it sounds eminently reasonable and compassionate. But does it have a rational, argued basis, rooted in the nature of the human person?

No justification whatsoever can be found for the assertion of a right to kill yourself in a document such as the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If anything, the provisions of the Universal Declaration suggest the opposite (my emphasis added):
Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 25: (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
Can it not be argued, contrary to Anna Soubry, that a situation where a terminally ill person feels that they want to kill themselves represents a breach of their rights under the above articles of the Universal Declaration? And that the establishing, even within the limited context of the terminally ill patient, of such a right within UK law would bring UK law into conflict with the Universal Declaration?

I find Anna Soubry's intervention particularly unfortunate in such close proximity to the example provided by the London 2012 Paralympics of how hope is engendered, not just by the person who is ill or disabled alone, or by the person who is caring alone, but between the two together. See my posts At the Paralympics and Paralympics Chaplain on Radio 2. It is sad to see such a prominent intervention that fails to recognise the part that society as a whole has to play in working to engender this community of hope rather than undermining it.

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