Letter: Right to decide

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The Independent Culture
Sir: I read with interest the piece by Jeremy Laurance on 30 March ("Choosing not to go gently"). I am an octogenarian - my age is nearer 90 than 80 - and I certainly do not want to die just yet, although I had polio when I was a boy of nine and have not been untouched by my advancing age in other respects.

When discussing voluntary euthanasia with people of my own age, we do not find that support for it declines with advancing age. It is inevitable that with advancing years one has more and more often the opportunity to watch physical and mental deterioration and consequent pain and distress, often leading gradually to an agonising end.

I am aware of the very serious arguments against euthanasia. But they lose much of their persuasive power when compared with the cruelty of watching the suffering of an agonising death.

Mr Laurance asks whether pain is a sufficient reason for ending a life. Yes, it is, when it is unbearable and continuous, or almost so, and the condition of the patient is hopeless. Moreover, steadily increasing morphine injections to ease the pain have other disagreeable side effects apart from shortening what is left of the patient's life expectancy.

Incidentally, I have never understood why doctors, when agreeing to shorten a hopelessly suffering patient's life, prefer to withdraw nutrition and hydration to giving a lethal injection; the intention is the same in both cases. Dying because of a lack of food and water is horrible.

The system concerning voluntary euthanasia in the Netherlands may not be perfect, but it does suggest that a humane solution of this harrowing problem is possible.

In the end, I think, the problem is one for the lawyers rather than the doctors.


Knutsford, Cheshire