06 January 2012


Andrew Brown's latest screed in the Grauniad "Assisted suicide is never an autonomous choice" scrapes the barrel of mindless inchoherence so thoroughly that the bottom just fell out. He sais

"The arguments over assisted suicide are mostly conducted with obvious flaws on both sides. Defenders of the status quo are wrong about the sacredness of life; those people trying to change it are wrong about humanity."

OK. Good...nice humble start: Everyone is wrong except me.... good job I'm around to straighten you all out then. He goes on.....

"The actual, practical issue is tiny. No one wants either to prolong the life of the elderly into a grotesque torture, or to bump them off as soon as they become inconvenient, although these spectres lurk in the shadows of the argument."

Wrong on both counts. Many religious seriously do want to prolong the life into grotesque inhuman torture of not only the elderly but also those suffering from incurable, terminal or untreatable illnesses against their wishes while mouthing platitudes that all that is required is better palliative care which, however good it is, is evidentially shown to be incapable of dealing with intolerable levels of pain in some instances. On the second count, there are people whose may want to relieve some people of their inconvenient lives. Often they are called dictators. Sometimes they are even called doctors! In either case the word he is looking for is murder - not assisted suicide.

"There is clearly a point in many lives after which life is no longer worth living and should be ended as painlessly as possible...."

Really? Sais who?

"....The question is who should decide when it has been reached. Under the old dispensation, doctors chose, and their decisions were tacitly accepted. Surely it is more modern, less authoritarian and more reasonable if patients make the choice, quite openly, for themselves?"

No, doctors didn't choose like that. They might have made tough palliative care decisions which had the secondary effect of hastening death in a greatly suffering end of life patient bu they have to operate within the law and sometimes on the boundaries of it too. It was never as simple as Brown attempts to make it sound here.

"The difficulty I have with this has nothing to do with religion, or with the supposed commands of a supposed God. It is about the nature of humanity. The thing that worries me about allowing patients to choose is that this isn't the kind of decision that we can reasonably make alone."

Rubbish. It has everything to do with religion: the vast majority of the lobby opposing assisted dying is religiously motivated: it is a projection of the religious idea that (human) life is sacred and comes under ~God's jurisdiction, not yours. It's truly appalling how terribly worried Mr Brown is about decisions we can reasonably make alone. Obviously it would be much better if we all consulted Mr Brown about our decision making in case we get it wrong. But who will Mr Brown consult about his decision making about our decision making? Or will his decisions just be the right ones every time?

"Some people make the decision to die entirely on their own. They talk to no one, not even the Samaritans. They just do it. And, perhaps, if you have no one at all to talk to, this can be a reasonable decision. But it is almost always wrong to suppose that there is no one with whom you can talk: although it is one of the most common feelings in depression, it's false and wrongly reasoned."

This is just gibberish. He is trying to equate suicide with depression in the mind of the reader by talking about the Samaritans. He is confusing issues. Of course there are correlates between suicide and depression and mental illness in general. This is not what we are talking about here. We are talking about the issue of assisted dying in the context of persons suffering intolerable suffering or terminal illness and about taking control of how those deaths play out in a civilised society. So why is he trying to confuse the issue I wonder?

"Either way, there are always people to talk to in the context of assisted suicide. It's at this point that the notion of autonomous choice breaks down. Once other people's opinions are called into the picture, so are their interests. And these interests do not necessarily align with the patient's.
Professionals can be trained to strict neutrality. But they aren't the people on whom our self-esteem and self-worth mostly depend. Those come from the people who like us, or even love us, unprofessionally. And that's a feeble crutch. There aren't enough of them, and their sentiments are much more mixed than we would like."

More inchoherence. Is he saying because you talk to someone your autonomy to make a decision is forever compromised? You can never make an autonomous decision uncontaminated by the sentiment and feelings of others? Jeeeezus! It's enough to make me want to quit right now!!

"In this context, it's worth remembering that it is believed Harold Shipman killed well over 200 people before any relatives became suspicious: suspicion followed only after he began changing the wills of his victims so that he profited, and their relatives to an equal degree lost money. Until then the deaths of the old were seen as part of the natural order."

Oh, fuck off Brown! Harold Shipman was a serial killer. He was a murderer!! Get it? M u r d e r e r!! You are not even remotely on context trying to make equivalence here.

"I have known personally only one old person deliberately killed by their carer for the money. Even then nothing could be proved, despite his remarkable feat in signing into his online bank account half an hour after his own death to transfer to his carer £10,000 in recognition of services rendered."

See response given above with the obvious modifications.

"But I know many whose children will not unduly lament their passing. Some older people are unsentimental about this. Mary Warnock has on occasion said that she would rather pass on her money to her children while it is useful for them, and my own mother has said much the same. They don't want to be a burden, and they do want to be useful. I feel something of this urge towards my own children, but it's essentially asymmetrical. I am a reasonably loving and thoughtful son; nonetheless I would hesitate to die for my mother, whereas if I really had to choose between my life and one of my children's I would give up mine without much dithering."

More non-sequiturs, turning his non-points into an unintelligible morass of mangled confused thinking.

"It's already abundantly clear that Britain has hundreds of thousands of old people whose lives are worth very little to anyone else, and who are neglected at best, abused at worst. Let's suppose that only one in a thousand of them thinks their lives are hardly worth living – and that's a very low estimate. That still means hundreds of people who would take the chance of assisted suicide if it were offered without pain or condemnation; and if we treat their decisions as wholly autonomous there is no reason to argue with them."

More emotive poppycock. The country has millions of old people, who mean the world to their loved ones and who are cherished and cared for to the very best of the ability of families and professional medical and nursing carers. Because this is not universally the case, we must treat all of them like babies unable to decide things for themselves?

"But we know that in fact their actions and decisions would not be really autonomous....."

It's getting difficult to tolerate any more if this utter bullshit Mr Brown.....

"They are reactions to a world that others have made, and that we all have a part in. The fraudulence of this kind of autonomy talk is obvious when it's applied to poverty. Rich and poor alike are free to choose to sleep under the bridges. We can all now see the damage that was done to society in the last 30 years by talking about choices that the powerless just don't have as if they were real. When Tony Blair's old flatmate Charlie Falconer extends this style of argument to judgments about life and death, the only sane response is to call it nonsense."

Oh..now what? More obfuscatory red herrings, caught under the bridges where the rich sleep in the staterooms of their luxury yachts sipping their martinis?

And are we all now thoroughly clear and settled in our minds as a result of Mr Brown's laser-like focus on this gem of impossible human pain and anguish? No?

I really am terribly cross with him this time. Only the last nine words of his piece made any sort of sense.

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