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Briton with locked-in syndrome wants right to die
Question of the Day
Jane described her husband as “a real alpha male” who was very active before his stroke. “He was tall, dark and handsome,” she says of the night they met on a blind date in Dubai. The two later also lived in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Britain with their two daughters. Nicklinson chaired a sports club that ran rugby events in the United Arab Emirates, mixing with elite players and officials.
“It was a dream come true for him,” his wife said.
Jane said she and their two grown daughters didn’t initially agree with her husband’s choice to die. “It was very upsetting and obviously it’s not what we want, but it’s what he wants and it’s his life,” she said.
Nicklinson spends most of his days at a computer he controls by blinking, writing emails and surfing the web. Jane said he rarely leaves his room in their bungalow in rural Wiltshire, southwest England, except to watch television in the evenings. He’s also writing his memoirs.
“It’s amazing what he remembers,” his wife said. “His mind is completely unaffected.”
Like the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, who recently turned 70, Nicklinson has not lost any of his intellectual capacities. Hawking has Lou Gehrig’s disease, a degenerative condition that kills most people within a few years. He has repeatedly said he doesn’t think about his physical limitations, which haven’t prevented him from revolutionizing the understanding of black holes and the origins of the universe.
A recent British commission headed by a former justice secretary concluded there was a strong case for allowing assisted suicide under strict criteria. The commission was set up and funded by campaigners who want the current law changed. The report did not support euthanasia and recommended assisted suicide only be allowed for terminally ill people, which would exclude Nicklinson.
In 2009, the British government’s top prosecutor said people who helped terminally ill relatives and friends die were unlikely to be charged if they acted out of compassion. From 2009 to 2011, 40 cases of people suspected of helping loved ones die were reported to the government prosecutor; none was charged.
In 2002, the Netherlands became the first country to legalize euthanasia, allowing doctors to end the lives of patients whose suffering is “unbearable and hopeless” _ not just those with terminal illnesses. In recent years, the country’s rates of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide have risen slightly, but still account for less than 3 percent of all deaths.
Switzerland allows doctors to prescribe a fatal dose of medicine for patients to take themselves. Since 2001, more than 160 Britons have traveled to the Dignitas clinic, near Zurich, to die.
Nicklinson considered going to Switzerland, but his wife said he decided against it for several reasons, including the approximately 6,500 pound ($10,000) cost. Nicklinson is currently receiving legal aid from the government to cover most of his lawyer’s fees.
Euthanasia is also legal in Belgium, Luxembourg and the state of Oregon in the United States.
Critics of euthanasia say the U.K. should focus more on improving care for the chronically and terminally ill instead of legislating mercy killing.
“I’m massively sympathetic to (Nicklinson‘s) situation, but I don’t think we should change the law when it will impact hundreds of thousands of other people,” said Dr. John Wiles, chairman of Care Not Killing, an alliance that opposes euthanasia. He warned that legalizing euthanasia might worsen treatment of elderly people and the terminally ill.
Wiles doubted enough safeguards could ever be in place. “However narrow you try to make it, in principle, we would be allowing the killing of other members of society for the first time,” he said. “If we change the law, we’ll be saying to people, `If you don’t like the care you’re getting, you can just end it.’”
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