Yesterday’s ITV national news at 6.30pm ran the story of Tony Nicklingson, who, after having a stroke, suffers from “locked in syndrome”. This means while is mentally he is fully functioning, physically he is only able to move his eyes and head. He cannot speak but communicates via a spelling board. The story revolved around the fact that he is going to court to try to get the law changed on mercy killing. Not assisted suicide as he is too disabled to be able to do anything himself, and so can play almost no part in his suicide. This would make helping him to die a mercy killing, which would be murder as the law now stands.
The presenter and the item reporter talked about how Tony had been a keen rugby player and the life and sole of the party but now could do none of those things, their voices trembling with emotion. His wife read out a statement that Mr Nicklingson had written with her using his spelling board. In it he told how he was “fed up with his life” and how he was not thankful to the doctor who saved his life.
Now at this point in the blog I originally went off on a vitriolic rant but have decided to try be more measured, both to make sure I get my point across and to avoid legal action. However if moments of anger do creep into what I write, please forgive me as this is a subject very close to my heart.
Every time I see one of these people campaigning to be killed, whether it be assisted suicide or mercy killing, I am stunned. Stunned and then filed with rage. Are they so selfish that they cannot see the bigger picture? Do they care so little for anyone else, or know so little of history that they can only see their own discomfort? Of course people like Mr Nicklingson have been handed a crappy hand in life, and I totally understand how depressed he must get. But there is a much more at stake than one person’s life when we start to go down this road. Once we do say it is OK to allow mercy killing then the slippery slope will lead to a world that snuffs out anyone who is serious ill or disabled.
Neither my wife, who was seriously burnt at the age of 6 months, or I, who had cancer at birth would still be here. In fact my wife’s father, who has epilepsy would have been put down after his first fit when he was a young boy, so she would even have existed. Or would her two sisters, or their sons. So already, that’s seven people taken out of existance. OK that’s a bit dramatic, but this is the result when you start making decisions around life and death on something as intangible as quality of life. What is a good quality? How do you decide? Will it come down to a list of conditions that we as a society see as just being too much to bear? But who says what is a terrible illness or disability?
Once we have eradicated everyone with these serious conditions, surely won’t people with lesser problems, things like dyslexia, poor vision, weight problems and maybe even the elderly, start being considered to live lives with no quality? Once you start, the goal posts will keep changing as society starts to see any condition as being unbearable. Another outcome would be the gradual change in medicine. No longer would doctors and surgeons strive to cure disease. Instead they would just kill their patients, as an act of mercy. Slowly all research would cease and eventually all illness would be seen as something that merits death.
But whatever your beliefs on this issue, the way it is reported on TV is disgusting. No balance, no examination of the subject. Instead we see an editorialised piece filled with words and phrases like “tragic”, “suffering”, “die with dignity” and “right to choose”. Tonight’s item on Tony Nicklingson was given the leader line “Trapped inside his own body”. Well aren’t we all trapped inside our own bodies. That describes being human, surely? There was no exploration of his condition, and if there are ways of allowing him to live with his disability independently and with dignity. Let’s not forget that Mr Nicklingson has a similar level of disability as Stephen Hawking, a man who has changed the way we see our world and who has written loads of books while being “trapped inside his own body”.
Instead of focusing on how this man wants to die, which is common when people are at the early stages of a new disability, the news should really have explored why this man has not been given the services and support that he and his family obviously need. It also should have looked deeper into the history of mercy killing, the truth behind what it means and why some people believe it is something we should avoid at all costs. At the least it should have been a measured piece and not shock news that played on people’s fears of illness and disability.