Assisted suicide – God forbids it, but isn’t it the greater moral act?

It's hard to reconcile a merciful God with the religious prohibitions against euthanasia

What would any of us reply, if we were asked by an elderly relative facing a terrible, increasing infirmity whether we would agree to assist them to die rather than endure a terminal illness in pain and indignity? Such a question would be very difficult to deal with, but surely one's instinct - indeed, one's conscience - would direct us to put the wishes of the sufferer first. A YouGov poll in today's Telegraph suggests that most people in the UK agree. Three quarters of respondents said the law should be changed to allow the act of assisted suicide, which at present carries a prison sentence of up to 14 years. Four fifths said that even if the law was not amended, the prosecution should stay its hand in such circumstances.

The issue is very much of the moment after the recent cases of Kay Gilderdale and Frances Inglis. Given the lack of real clarity over the courts' opposite verdicts on these two women, the proposal by Sir Terry Pratchett for "euthanasia tribunals" to be set up appears a humane and sensible one. The author, who has Alzheimer's, is due to give a lecture to the Royal College of Physicians tonight in which he will say: "If I knew that I could die at any time I wanted, then suddenly every day would be as precious as a million pounds. If I knew that I could die, I would live. My life, my death, my choice."

I found the subject vivid in my mind last summer, when the distinguished conductor Sir Edward Downes and his wife chose to die at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland. Sir Edward was 85 and Lady Downes was 74, and both had very serious health problems. I not only had happy memories of going to concerts conducted by Sir Edward, but was in the same house at school as his son, Caractacus. A much-liked boy, and a talented musician himself, I remember "Crac", as we all called him, as a kindly individual who always had time for a word with junior pupils. Who could blame him and his sister for witnessing the deaths their parents chose rather than trying to insist they continue lives they no longer wished to lead.

It's worth noting, however, that neither the Downes nor Pratchett had or have any formal religious beliefs. While the promise of the afterlife means
that death is not something members of the Abrahamic faiths should fear, Judaism, Christianity and Islam all have strong prohibitions against suicide or euthanasia, and the current pope has been especially forceful on this, calling euthanasia "a false solution" and "evil". One might be able to find scriptures and verses that could be interpreted so liberally as to make this a grey area; but opponents would be armed with many more that make it clear that such acts were not permissible.

The only plea left, perhaps, is that at the time those holy books were written, no one - apart from the likes of Methuselah - was expected to reach the ages that are commonplace now. It's hard to reconcile a merciful God with a deity who demands humans endure years, even decades, of lives they don't consider worth living. Doesn't easing a painless exit seem to be the greater moral act?

 

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter.

Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
Getty
Show Hide image

Let's face it: supporting Spurs is basically a form of charity

Now, for my biggest donation yet . . .

I gazed in awe at the new stadium, the future home of Spurs, wondering where my treasures will go. It is going to be one of the architectural wonders of the modern world (football stadia division), yet at the same time it seems ancient, archaic, a Roman ruin, very much like an amphitheatre I once saw in Croatia. It’s at the stage in a new construction when you can see all the bones and none of the flesh, with huge tiers soaring up into the sky. You can’t tell if it’s going or coming, a past perfect ruin or a perfect future model.

It has been so annoying at White Hart Lane this past year or so, having to walk round walkways and under awnings and dodge fences and hoardings, losing all sense of direction. Millions of pounds were being poured into what appeared to be a hole in the ground. The new stadium will replace part of one end of the present one, which was built in 1898. It has been hard not to be unaware of what’s going on, continually asking ourselves, as we take our seats: did the earth move for you?

Now, at long last, you can see what will be there, when it emerges from the scaffolding in another year. Awesome, of course. And, har, har, it will hold more people than Arsenal’s new home by 1,000 (61,000, as opposed to the puny Emirates, with only 60,000). At each home game, I am thinking about the future, wondering how my treasures will fare: will they be happy there?

No, I don’t mean Harry Kane, Danny Rose and Kyle Walker – local as well as national treasures. Not many Prem teams these days can boast quite as many English persons in their ranks. I mean my treasures, stuff wot I have been collecting these past 50 years.

About ten years ago, I went to a shareholders’ meeting at White Hart Lane when the embryonic plans for the new stadium were being announced. I stood up when questions were called for and asked the chairman, Daniel Levy, about having a museum in the new stadium. I told him that Man United had made £1m the previous year from their museum. Surely Spurs should make room for one in the brave new mega-stadium – to show off our long and proud history, delight the fans and all those interested in football history and make a few bob.

He mumbled something – fluent enough, as he did go to Cambridge – but gave nothing away, like the PM caught at Prime Minister’s Questions with an unexpected question.

But now it is going to happen. The people who are designing the museum are coming from Manchester to look at my treasures. They asked for a list but I said, “No chance.” I must have 2,000 items of Spurs memorabilia. I could be dead by the time I finish listing them. They’ll have to see them, in the flesh, and then they’ll be free to take away whatever they might consider worth having in the new museum.

I’m awfully kind that way, partly because I have always looked on supporting Spurs as a form of charity. You don’t expect any reward. Nor could you expect a great deal of pleasure, these past few decades, and certainly not the other day at Liverpool when they were shite. But you do want to help them, poor things.

I have been downsizing since my wife died, and since we sold our Loweswater house, and I’m now clearing out some of my treasures. I’ve donated a very rare Wordsworth book to Dove Cottage, five letters from Beatrix Potter to the Armitt Library in Ambleside, and handwritten Beatles lyrics to the British Library. If Beckham and I don’t get a knighthood in the next honours list, I will be spitting.

My Spurs stuff includes programmes going back to 1910, plus recent stuff like the Opus book, that monster publication, about the size of a black cab. Limited editions cost £8,000 a copy in 2007. I got mine free, as I did the introduction and loaned them photographs. I will be glad to get rid of it. It’s blocking the light in my room.

Perhaps, depending on what they want, and they might take nothing, I will ask for a small pourboire in return. Two free tickets in the new stadium. For life. Or longer . . . 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times