Oh So Pretty
29 April 2002
I'm all in favour in theory, I've got to be: how would it look on my pinko-liberal, self-deterministic, nice-guy credentials if I came out and said I's against euthanasia? I have no sanctity of life qualms at all about saying that if someone's in incurable agony, begging for death, that in many cases pushing them over the edge may well be the most humane thing to do. It's with the practicalities that my problems start. Everyone acknowledges the risks, we don't want 'I was just releasing her from the pain' to become an easy route to accessing Granny's loot, so of course there will be safeguards, and what does that mean? Doctors.
Now, two or three years ago this probably wouldn't have bothered me, I was blissfully complicit in the 'qualified professional' global self-delusion that imbues individuals with an aura of unquestionable knowledge and competency simply by teaching them a few bits of jargon and sticking a couple of letters before or after their name. Unfortunately I've reached that threshold where the people I grew up with are blagging their way through their first court cases, showing off the bruises from the blood tests they get to practice on each other and being prepared for the power to section by being taught how to angle their chair towards the person they're interviewing; suddenly giving the ultimate responsibility of life and death to the guys I remember putting sodium in their mouth because they thought it was the chemical compound of salt doesn't seem such a great safeguard after all.
Thousands lined the streets of Westminster this morning to witness the funeral cortege of Queen Elizabeth II. The 86 year-old monarch acknowledged the cheers of the crowds from her coffin as it was carried from Buckingham Palace in a solemn procession that included a regiment of pipers and most senior members of the Royal Family; in a break with tradition, the remarkable train bypassed Westminster Abbey and carried on across the Thames to St. Guy's & St. Thomas's where the Queen's casket was received into a private ward. The Queen is said to have had the idea for this final journey after witnessing the spectacle of the Queen Mother's funeral and thinking how sad it was for her mother not to be there to enjoy it; her plans presented the first real test for the country's new euthanasia laws as the Crown's lawyers successfully argued that, for the Queen, being told by her doctor that she was too frail to carry on riding represented an intolerable deterioration in her quality of life. In a statement released later, the Duke of Edinburgh, who was by his wife's side at the time of her death, said that she had beamed contentedly as the needle went in, although the resilient nonagenarian also added that it was a shame the injection had to be administered by a 'fucking Jap.'
I've been on placement at an old people's home for the last three months which is why the issue's been buzzing round my head so much. No, not like that: I mean that the residents talk about it so often and when the subject came up on Kilroy even that most practiced veteran of oiling troubled waters couldn't control the carnage. They're all well up for it, the more alert ones especially: they see the ravages of dementia eating away at the capabilities and personalities of neighbours and one-time friends and have too much self-respect to want to be allowed to become the same, although I suspect there are a couple of fellow-residents they've got ear-marked for being helped on their way before it comes to that.
"What've we got?"
"Mrs. Irene Shuttleworth, first of all."
"Uh-huh, what's the contract?"
"I, Irene Shuttleworth, being of sound mind, dum de dum de dum, if facing unremitting and terminal suffering, yep, yep, not able to express my wishes, oh, here: or if my mental faculties deteriorate to such an extent that . . . do request, assisted suicide, et cetera et cetera."
"Okay, a no-brainer: what's the situation?"
"Found wandering around the upper floors of her retirement home stark naked." "Aha! Any other factors?"
"Her daughter says she just came from a family that had no problems with nudity."
"Beyond reasonable doubt, Ian."
"Of course, but remember the Peterson case: preserving life in direct conflict with the patient's expressed wishes is as much abuse as an overzealous termination. It's our job to advocate on Mrs. Shuttleworth's behalf now she's no longer in a state to champion her own decision."
"Fair enough, better safe than sorry; there you go. Who's next?"
I shouldn't be churlish, though: if we started to question the responsibility placed in the hands on qualified professionals simply cos we've suddenly realised that they're all just blustering their way through in the hope that no-one notices they've got no better idea of what the hell's going on than the rest of us, most of our social infrastructure would be entering definite house-of-cards territory. Besides, I want someone to be there to finish me off when my quality of life has depreciated to such an extent that I want to appear on Kilroy.