- 14 May 13
First there is abortion. Then, we are going to have to discuss the issue of the right to die...
The dread debate arose again from the depths. Older hands despaired. Not again. Fer jaysus’ sake, not again. But no, try as you might, there’s no dodging it. Talk about being on the edge of a nervous breakdown!
Quite why abortion excites such sturm und drang in Ireland is unclear. Yes, there’s a very well organised and politically influential anti-choice lobby. But, on the other hand, there’s a steady stream of Irish women travelling to the UK each year to avail of services there.
Well, at least there’s agreement that we have a mess on our hands, though I doubt that the two sides could possibly agree on who is responsible.
The first layer of responsibility for this mess lies squarely with the movement that erroneously styled itself ‘pro-life’. Their big idea was that a constitutional amendment would be a silver bullet cordoning abortion off for all time from future decisions of politicians. But they failed to plan for the exigencies of life…
The second layer of responsibility rests with Irish politicians who have been unfeasibly and contemptibly cowardly on this issue for a generation. Of course, the convenience of the UK abortion option allowed the sponsors of teh original amendment far more scope to grandstand than would be the case if the UK were not so handy. Likewise, it allowed Irish politicians to fudge and pander. We were left with a classic Irish solution to an Irish problem…
The result? Instead of our legislators doing their job as they should have, it has required hard cases and personal tragedies to expose bad law. That it has taken so long to introduce legislation that reflects the decisions of the courts is shameful. And we haven’t even started on rape and incest victims. That said, and whatever one’s views on the present proposed law, one must at least acknowledge that the current Government is now addressing the issue.
Revisiting the horrors of earlier debates, one remembers how the anti-choice movement’s apologists frequently strayed into the kind of jesuitical distinction that made discussions of the number of angels on the head of a pin seem positively reasonable. Remember the zygote?
They were, or became, preoccupied with when life began, when the soul entered the egg, as it were… This, of course, takes no account of the viability of the foetus. This thinking and the official lassitude that followed, led inevitably to the death of Savita Halappanavar. If it hadn’t been her it would have been someone else.
Of course, the corollary is to do with when life ends. I say this in sadness, having heard that Marie Fleming lost her legal battle to be helped to end her own life.
Marie Fleming is a remarkable and very courageous person. You know the basics. She is in the end stages of multiple sclerosis, has perhaps less than two dreadful years to live, and she believes that she will want and need to end her life. But the disease has advanced to the point where she isn’t able to do this herself. She went to court to be lawfully assisted to have a peaceful death at a time of her choosing, without putting her loved ones at the risk of prosecution.
She suffers severe pain, at times unbearable. Her shoulder is collapsed and this presses on her lung. She needs 22 separate pills and seven carers who shower, toilet and dress her. Her cognitive functions remain undimmed: she is acutely aware of every aspect of her predicament.
Anyone who has been close to someone needing this level of care will understand. Someone succumbing to dementia doesn’t have the capacity to decide on suicide – but this isn’t true of a person with MS or certain other degenerative diseases. Indeed, the judges who heard Marie Fleming’s testimony some months ago described her as perhaps the most remarkable witness they had ever encountered.
In the end, our laws and courts are driven by faith-based prejudices regarding life and the afterlife. It seems to be assumed that this present life is merely an antechamber to another life and that it isn’t for humans to decide when life ends, it’s for some higher authority. In addition there is a growing clamour to yry to address high levels of suicide in Ireland and, perhaps, a belief that any concession to anyone might be interpreted as some kind of licence.
The upshot is that those who believe that a moment comes when life is not worth living and who lack the physical capacity to enact their resolution are discriminated against.
Not everyone believes in a god. Not everyone believes that life should be preserved at all costs. There are those who recognise that it’s all very messy and difficult. Sometimes, though of course not always, suicide is a rational response to impossible conditions such as those suffered by Marie Fleming. The idea that, as the High Court suggested, the DPP might adopt a “humane” approach in her case smacks of yet another Irish solution to an Irish problem…
As our society ages and more and more people have to deal with appalling degenerative diseases, we’re going to have to balance the right to life with the right to death.