By Melanie Phillips
Why are the Left (and the BBC) so keen to promote this ghoulish culture of death?
Spring, when the trees are in bud and green shoots are thrusting up from the earth, is the season when life robustly reasserts itself.
Yet in the past few weeks we have been assailed by a relentless stream of stories about people wanting to be helped to die.
First, we learned that the BBC plans to screen a documentary this summer in which novelist and Alzheimer’s sufferer Terry Pratchett advocates assisted suicide.
The programme features footage of a man with motor neurone disease travelling to the Swiss euthanasia clinic Dignitas and being shown dying on screen.
Hard on the heels of this snuff movie came the sickening news that a video featuring notorious assisted suicide campaigner Dr Philip Nitschke, in which he demonstrates how to help people kill themselves, is being shown to schoolchildren in British classrooms.
Nitschke, nicknamed ‘Dr Death’ — whose DIY suicide manual provides instructions on how to kill yourself with plastic bags, carbon monoxide, cyanide, morphine and other poisons — is shown in the film demonstrating his machine that delivers lethal injections and giving workshops on his ghastly trade.
And now the Star Trek actor Sir Patrick Stewart, who apart from being diagnosed with coronary heart disease five years ago is a healthy 70-year-old, suddenly announces his wish to be allowed an assisted death.
This would all seem to add up to an intensification of the campaign to make it legal for people to be helped to kill themselves.
This autumn, the Commission on Assisted Dying, led by Lord Falconer, is expected to deliver its recommendations to MPs over a change in the law.
All this propaganda — for that’s what it is — seems to be part of a drive to soften up public opinion so that any recommendation made by this commission to make assisted suicide legal will be accepted.
And there’s more than a whiff of brazen stunts to that end.
For example, Michael Irwin, a euthanasia campaigner and former GP who travelled to Dignitas last month with pensioner Nan Maitland — who ended her life there merely because of arthritis pain — has called for his own arrest. He said he was prepared to face prosecution, and hoped that this might help to change the law on euthanasia.
Of course, it is impossible not to sympathise with individuals who seek to end their own lives in this way. We can all identify with the terror of being trapped inside a useless body, of losing control, of the pain and indignity of a horrible terminal disease. If it were simply a case of having the right to die, however, the issue would be pretty simple. After all, suicide is legal. But assisted suicide is deeply problematic.
It opens up the route to intolerable abuse of deeply vulnerable people, who may be put under pressure by greedy or uncaring relatives to end their lives. Or the person in question may simply not wish to ‘be a burden’ on their loved ones.
It sends society down a slippery slope, where assisted suicide starts off for those suffering unbearable pain or distress through illness and rapidly extends to people wanting to die even though they are not ill at all.
Even more horrifying, those whose minds are affected by illness will be making a choice to be killed which may not be rational at all. Indeed, their wish to die may be the result of feelings which may change — if given the chance.
For all these reasons, despite years of campaigning by the euthanasia lobby group Dignity in Dying, of which Sir Patrick Stewart is a patron (and which cynically renamed itself from the Voluntary Euthanasia Legalisation Society to spin away the fact that it is actually in the killing game), Parliament has refused to change the law to permit either euthanasia or assisted suicide.
So the campaign is being ratcheted up. And, of course, people are instinctively sympathetic to these individual stories of despair.
But there’s a grim downside and extreme danger, both for individuals and society, from any such change in the law.
Consider, for example, the idyllic picture that Dr Irwin presents of the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, describing how the night before Nan Maitland ended her life there, they stayed at a ‘wonderful five-star hotel’ and ‘had a three-hour dinner with a nice Chablis’.
Yet last year at Trotte Bay, on the shores of Lake Zurich, divers uncovered a huge number of urns at the bottom of the lake, containing human remains — reportedly from the incinerators at Dignitas.
A former nurse at the place, Soraya Wernli, has described how the urns were piled up near the wine collection in the cellar of the home near Lake Zurich of clinic owner Ludwig Minelli. She claims he then prised off all the nameplates, pushed the lids off and dumped the urns in the lake.
Despite the sympathy and respect due to Sir Terry Pratchett for his heroic attitude towards his disease, the BBC documentary appears to be ghoulishly one-sided. The idea of the BBC making a programme against assisted suicide is pretty well unthinkable.
And what on earth are teachers thinking of in exposing schoolchildren to Philip Nitschke, who in any normal moral universe would be considered utterly beyond the pale?
For heaven’s sake, even Dignity in Dying has condemned him and criticised the use of such a film in schools.
The end of that road is a society of brutal utilitarianism in which, having first got rid of God, societies start getting rid of people.
If human remains are treated as garbage to be dumped in a lake, it’s not long before live human beings are treated as garbage, too. If there is no intrinsic respect for human life, it’s not long before other people’s lives are treated with similar contempt.
The ‘right to die’ has an appealing ring to it, but apply the Beachy Head test. If, hypothetically, you saw someone in a wheelchair about to throw himself off Beachy Head, would you stand and applaud, maybe even give the wheelchair a helpful push — or would you rush forward to stop him?
The gathering pressure to adopt the former course says something terrible about our society. It says we are turning into a culture of death.