Thursday 30 July 2009

Is there a Pagan thealogy of assisted suicide?

All 5 Law Lords agreed that a clarification of the law on assisted suicide is required following by Debbie Purdy’s successful challenge in the House of Lords today. The Director of Public Prosecutions made some very clear and very compassionate statements on the issue taking into account people who will wish to die between now and September when there will be a public consultation. It’s not a change in the law, it’s an understanding that the law is unclear and needs clarity.

Off on a slight tangent my friend Jane in intensive care is in a pitiful state. When we last visited I had a dreadful memory of the Little Brown Dog, a mongrel in 1903 who was passed illegally from vivisector to vivisector and eventually killed, again illegally, in front of a room full of medical students. The suffragists, Louise Lind-af-Hageby, and Leisa K. Schartau, were there too, the only women allowed into the vivisection lab and the only people who objected. Riots occured, statues were erected.

We were with Jane less than 5 minutes when a team of people in scrubs arrived and ‘asked’ us to leave. 4 of those people, all women, none of whom had any ID or name badge, didn’t meet our eyes and seemed entirely disinterested in our existence. The one that spoke to us smiled, but her smile didn’t reach her eyes. Jane, meanwhile . . . well who knows, she can’t speak or move anything apart from her head, and she’s under light sedation so that she doesn’t remove all the lines and tubes. What I felt from her was profound disgust and sorrow. They may be my feelings. Knowing that Jane has consistently discharged herself from hospital whenever she’s been able it’s very hard for both of us to observe the activity of whomever the scrub-clad people might be, and increasingly maddening to watch her other visitors maniacally bounce around talking about getting better and coming home and going on holiday and all the other fantasy.

I know they’re fearful and I’m losing respect for their feelings. Their feelings have always taken precedence over what Jane might want. I don’t know what Jane wants and no one seems very interested in finding out. 7 years ago Jane was given months to live, the will to live through a shocking childhood now seemed to preserve her and I’m sure the medics find her very interesting and a fascinating challenge. I asked what their plan for her might be: “When she comes off the ventilator she’ll be moved to a medical ward.”

No one can see into the future but I think there’s a fairly good chance that Jane will not leave that medical ward and I don’t see what’s been achieved other than the absence of death which will reassert itself in short while, perhaps as soon as Jane becomes able to take some kind of control over the matter herself. She won’t be able to discharge herself now; she’ll not walk again. Is the absence of death a satisfactory result?

I’ve spent some time thinking hard about a theology of a Pagan response to assisted suicide and it seems to me that at the heart of the matter is the use and abuse of power. Jane-the-person disappeared as soon as she was made mute, all of us are projecting our interests on to her. I fear my own loss of power over my own life and death, I fear the clinical interest and the personal disinterest that I saw in the blue-clad ones. I fear that the people I love will not do what I want them to do when I begin to die but will treat the event with terror and denial and in doing so, abuse me.

So I have to relinquish all desire when I visit Jane and visiting has become very difficult. Perhaps the theory is that I will pass through some kind of trial and find resolution after which I will feel relaxed and enlightened. I’ll let you know. But right now I’m watching a woman, mute and paralysed, in a state of terrible physical and emotional distress, and there seems less interest in her as a person than there was in the little brown dog.

1 comment:

Joseph said...

I cannot speak to whether there is a "theaology" for such things, but there is certainly historical precedent.

Amongst the Heathen Norse, it was not unknown to kill someone with a weapon when they were too old and infirm to fight. Doing so would offer them the chance to enter into Valhalla (because they had been killed by a weapon) rather than dying the "straw death" (dying in their bed of straw) and being denied even the chance of such a hero's reward.