Life, equality and the business of dying

In these times of deep uncertainty, Professor Mike Oliver takes a satirical look at how the opportunity of choosing to end your life early might be extended and made more equal.

The film Me Before You and subsequent responses seems to have re-ignited the debate about whether we need a Dignitas-type system for “assisted dying” in this country. While I’m on the side of those disabled people who passionately believe that we shouldn’t have any such thing because it threatens our very existence, I think we are fighting a losing battle and sooner or later such a system will be introduced here.

Our only hope therefore is to change the whole nature of the debate to one about equality rather than morality or compassion. In other words, if we are going to have such a system, it should be available to everyone and not just people who are terminally ill or severely disabled. So if we are to change the way we think about the issue, we need to change the way we talk about it.

My proposal is that we abandon such terms as euthanasia, mercy killing and death making and instead replace them with more positive concepts and my own suggestion is that we use the term “life-recycling”. And this positive idea of life-recycling should be available to everyone who meets an extended and extensive set of “life conditions or circumstances”.

Before legislation could be passed however, we would need to draw up a comprehensive list of life circumstances that would be covered. My own suggestion would be a royal commission which could be jointly chaired by two of the main protagonists in the current debate, Lord Falconer and Baroness Campbell. It would be presumptuous of me to suggest what this list might include because that would need to be debated widely.

Once this comprehensive list was produced we could then proceed to legislate. However people would not simply be able to request life-recycling whenever life seemed a little too much. Safeguards would need to be built in so we would need a new profession, something like “life-recycling counsellors”. Those applying for life-recycling would need to see one of these counsellors for a least a year before their application could be approved.

We would also therefore and obviously need an Institute For Life-Recycling to ensure that proper professional standards are adhered to and to oversee the training of this new breed of professional. The Institute could also validate degree courses in life-recycling provided by the universities.

The system would have other benefits too. The bodies of those who go through the whole process and succeed in having their lives recycled could then be harvested for their organs thus helping to overcome their chronic shortage for transplants of all kinds. The problem of immigration would be solved too as more and more people decided to take advantage of the new system.

Finally cash-strapped local authorities could generate income by licensing private companies to build life-recycling centres in their areas and, no doubt, organisations like Atos, Capita and MAXIMUS would be in the front of the bidding process given their recent track records.

My proposal would help alleviate the present antagonism between the mercy killers and the not-dead-yetters as well as giving the able-bodied, or what we might alternatively call people with abilities the opportunity to think about having their own lives terminated. Perhaps then they might begin to understand how many terminally ill and severely disabled people feel about a current debate which gives little consideration to how they feel about having their very existence threatened.

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