Two men in England, Tony Nicklinson and a man known only as Martin, are suffering from Locked-In Syndrome but have been denied the right to die by UK’s High Court.
Locked-In Syndrome results from a massive stroke that immobilizes the entire body, save for the eyes and eyelids, but leaves the sufferer perfectly cognitive. One of the syndrome’s more famous cases was Jean-Dominique Bauby, a French journalist who managed to write a book called “The Diving Bell & The Butterfly” with only his eyelids. Julian Schnabel later made an excellent and heartbreaking film of Bauby’s condition in 2007.
According to The Independent, Nicklinson’s lawyer “argued for an extension to the common law defence of ‘necessity’ for murder because the alternative – forcing him to stay alive – is worse. They also argued that the government is in breach of his Article 8 right to ‘privacy, dignity and autonomy’, a right he cannot exercise independently because of severe disability.”
The court stated that there was no precedent for assisted dying anywhere in the world (Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act?), and that it was Parliament’s responsibility to create one. And if they were to usurp Parliament’s right, there would be implications far beyond the two men’s conditions.
Perhaps the court is thinking of the German cannibal Armin Meiwes, who found a willing victim online, killed him, then ate his victim over the course of 10 months. This is a legitimate concern and best left to legislation, but to deny Nicklinson and Martin their freedom, even if it is to end their lives, is monstrous.
As Richard Dawkins, referencing an article by Polly Tonybee, stated, House of Lords legislation that would have permitted assisted dying has been blocked by a religious lobbying group. And, yes, I will say it: the religious are monstrous in contending that their private beliefs should impinge the rights of another person.
In opinion polls, for years, more than 80% have supported this change in the law, but every attempt at a right-to-die reform has been sabotaged by the large religious lobby, galvanised by Care Not Killing. The red benches, heavily stacked with the religious, including 26 bishops, saw off the last bills.
[Archbishop] Rowan Williams’s pretence is that their opposition springs from a fear this will lead to mass extermination of the inconvenient old. But why should the religious worry more about that than everyone else? The law would provide safeguards. The real religious reason is theological, as voiced in the Lords by the bishop of Oxford when he proclaimed “We are not autonomous beings” – we must all wait for God’s release. Presumably avoidable suffering is part of God’s mysterious purpose.
Wait for God’s release and abide his “mysterious purpose”? Not only is the religious position monstrous, it’s pure lunacy. Only the religious, with the help of their imaginary friend, could descend to such illogical depths. But let’s not excuse the judges here, however valid their deference to parliament argument might be. If parliament is paralyzed with inaction on account of religious lobbying, then patients really only have one option: the courts. That or they wait for legislation, which is absurd.
Mr Nicklinson said of the ruling: “Judges, like politicians, are happiest when they can avoid confronting the real issues and this judgement is not an exception to this rule… this means yet another period of physical discomfort, misery and mental anguish while we find out who controls my life – me or the state.”
Richard Dawkins criticized the High Court’s argument the best: “No precedent for allowing a human being to be put out of his appalling misery, when he has lost the ability to do it on his own? No precedent? Then in the name of humanity and decency SET ONE!”