Whose life is it anyway?
In 2005, 51-year old British man Tony Nicklinson had a stroke that left him unable to move or speak. There was no cure for his condition. He wanted to die. He went to the law courts to try and get permission to be assisted to die. On 17 August this year the court decided he did not have this right. Some days later Nicklinson died after refusing medical treatment for pneumonia. I became a quadriplegic after a spinal cord injury in 2004. I started thinking about what I would do if I were in Nicklinson's situation. I have decided there is no easy answer.
Posted by: Rachel Croucher, on 28/08/12
Nicklinson had family support.
After a stroke in 2005, 51-year old British man Tony Nicklinson was left
trapped inside his own body by locked-in syndrome. This condition leaves one conscious but unable to move or speak. Nicklinson said he felt nothing but misery and powerlessness so he mounted a legal challenge for the right to assistance to take his own life. On 16 August this year the United Kingdom High Court denied his request. On 22 August Nicklinson died from pneumonia.
I could not help but think about how my life changed in January 2004 when I became a quadriplegic. Locked-in syndrome and quadriplegia are different, but I empathise with the instantaneous loss of autonomy and the struggle to find new meaning in life. It is important for those who passed judgement on Nicklinson to realise everyone deals with trauma differently.
A new life
Someone once said to me quadriplegia is the most traumatic thing that can happen to a person. I disagreed. I told them to consider individuals who feel they have lost physical, mental and spiritual autonomy. After much research and observation I believe individuals unable to communicate are possibly the most discriminated against in society.
I have lost the ability to do many things, and I do sometimes have dark days. Nevertheless, I am still the same old chatterbox I always was. I have been able to create a new life for myself which stimulates me.
In addition to strength, one also needs luck to rebuild their life post-injury or illness. Not everyone has this luck. I have therefore now concluded that I do not have the right to judge people who have not been as lucky in creating a new life.
To rebuild or not
Despite the dark days I have faced I have managed to rebuild my life. Tony Nicklinson, on the other hand, concluded he saw nothing left to rebuild. His wife and daughters struggled to accept his wish to end his life. They hoped that with sufficient care and support he would change his mind.
But Nicklinson remained unwavering, saying that after some years considering the pros and cons he simply could not bear the changes brought about by his stroke. He no longer wanted to try rebuilding his life. His family changed their minds and supported his wish to seek medical assistance to die in a pain-free way.
A moral grey area
I used to be 100 percent against assisted suicide. I saw it as a black-and-white issue. I simply thought it was wrong in all cases. I believe everyone with a disability should be provided with as much care and support necessary to make them want to value their lives.
After doing much research I now regard assisted suicide as a moral grey area. There are no easy answers. I think I might disagree with Tony Nicklinson. I want people to get as much support to convince them to keep on trying. Life is beautiful in all its forms. But in the end it was Nicklinson's life, wasn't it? I hate to say it but I now believe it was his right to decide and no-one else's.
His own decision
On the day Tony Nicklinson died, his Twitter feed read
Goodbye world the time has come, I had some fun. He died shortly afterwards having refused medical treatment for pneumonia, a complication which arose from his decision to starve himself to death after the High Court ruling against him.
I feel great sadness that Nicklinson had to endure such a painful death. I hope he is not soon forgotten and that his case inspires thoughtful and respectful debate on the issue of assisted suicide.
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