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Sunday, 12 September 2010

Right to die?

Clarity in the language of public debate would be wonderful. It is I think sadly lacking and nowhere more so than in the short hand surrounding the public debate on the legal issues related to life, death and dying.

The term "right to die" for example. Strictly speaking to talk of "a right to die" is redundant if not a nonsense. Dying is a necessary consequence of living. We do not get a choice about dying and consequently we need to make no claims about wanting to die as opposed for instance to the right to have a life which will not end. Neither are on offer and claiming aright to either is not something tht a court of law can assist us with nor will any government policy currently available.

Ah but I here the reader say that is not really what is meant by the phrase "right to die".

I agree. Let me translate the phrase or try and unpack it - what is meant be "the right to die" is something like:

-  assistance, or support to take one's own life at the point of one's own choice, without the persons assisting being subject to legal penalty. In summary people supporting such a claim are asking for active support for people to commit suicide, or relief from legal penalties for people who are implicated in what is actually the taking of a human life.

Committing suicide or assisting in taking a human life are actual acts in which volition is involved as opposed to "dying" which is something that one suffers or experiences.

The phrase "right to die" annoys me then for two reasons: it obscures the reality in human terms of what is involved and it does so by occluding the issue of agency and human responsibility.


None of this is designed to settle the issue of policy, how we are to be present with people in their dying and what the appropriate rules and policies around pain relief and withdrawal of treatment that respect the agency and humanity of all who are involved in such situations.

I am simply looking for clarity in language so that we can be as truthful as possible about the reality of the issues at stake.

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