Tony Nicklinson and Assisted Suicide: My Life, My Decision

A 58-year old businessman, Tony Nicklinson, had been suffering from the ‘locked-in syndrome’.

For those who are not familiar with this condition, imagine yourself being nothing more than a head floating in air. Your body is beyond your control. If you have to move your arm one inch to the right, you cannot. Does you left cheek feel a little itchy? Ask your nurse to itch it for you. Well, not “ask”. You may have to communicate by blinking or moving your eyes.

Imagine doing that for the rest of your life. Sounds pretty tolerable, doesn’t it? Don’t know what Mr.Nicklinson’s been complaining about!

Anyway, for reasons that I’ll never understand, Nicklinson wasn’t keen on living. Since assisted suicide is illegal in UK, the man begged the court to allow his doctor to kill him. He lost the case. The picture below shows his reaction to the verdict:

This is the face of a suffering man who’s been sentenced to life in prison. A prison of his own useless flesh and bones.

The pro-lifers, as always, did not give a gently-soaring fuck about the man’s agony. They were busy high-fiving one another over their continued dominion over other people’s lives. The government tightly regulates a man’s finances, his movements, the air he breathes, the water he drinks – you know, all the little things. How ludicrous would it be that the government should allow him, at the very least, the right to end his own life.

Not that the court achieved anything by doing this to Nicklinson. He simply continued to refuse food and medication, and died a week after the verdict from pneumonia-related complications. Instead of letting him die a quick, dignified death, the United Kingdom doomed this man to die by the process of slow, painful starvation, and the gnawing of bacteria at his body.

What a great, fucking surprise that we can’t force perfectly sane adults to want to live.

This is not a British disease. It’s a global menace. Of government who treat their citizens not as individuals who have the freedom to decide their own fate, but as “assets”. A nation is merely an orchard that produces fruit ripe for the government to pluck, and it’s not in the administration’s interest to allow consenting, adult trees to chop themselves down.

For a tree that is in no condition to bear fruit, as Mr. Nicklinson (pardon the callous analogy), the debate is held almost exclusively within the realm of ethics, morality or religion. It’s never about reality or pragmatism. It’s not about what’s right. It’s about what’s “moral”. And in this case, letting that man suffer for 7 years was the moral thing to do.

As a sane adult, I have a right to choose whether I breathe or not. Neither the priest nor the president has any authority over what I get to do with my body.

    • Vianney Sánchez
    • September 7th, 2012

    I´ve read a good part of your blog and I admire your lucid thinking and personal bravery! Chapeau!

    • Azeem
    • September 14th, 2012

    Look at his arrogant face, he deserves to live forever, author also has very biased pic and misleading. his emotional blackmail wont work. Life is a gift, he needs help not media to tell him dying will make pain go away.

    • Azeem,
      As I said, you don’t get to decide whether I or anybody else breathes or not. You’re not in Nicklinson’s shoes, and you don’t have a right to judge him for the decision he makes regarding his own body.

        • omer
        • September 30th, 2012

        Yes but you are not in his shoes either. we don’t just live a life for ourselves. We live for others. We have an obligation towards children, wives, family, state etc. I am not discussing nicholson, I am discussing you and me. My life is not just my life, it also belongs to every-one around me, including the state. If this were not so, I will be a selfish b***.

        A judge has to look at all perspectives, morality, legality, ethics, religion, nicholson’s desire, family, doctor’s opinion, repurcussions, etc. It is not simply about controlling what you can or can’t do as you put it naively. Though I sympathise with the deceased patient, I am sorry he was led to the state of him wanting to kill himself. To me this was not a sane choice. The movie “You don’t know Jack” is an interesting one as it looks at all aspects of these cases.

      • Neither Nicklinson nor his family objected to his decision. There’s no reason why you should.

        Nicklinson understood well the painful burden he had become on his loved ones, and his loved ones understood his frustration and anguish enough to fight the court battle on his behalf.

        Religion is irrelevant. UK has a secular justice system that forbids religious biases from affecting verdicts. If Nicklinson’s religious beliefs (or lack of them) allow him to end his life, that’s all that matters.

        And there’s nothing much ethical or moral about letting a man continue to suffer like that. Whether it makes one selfish or not, a person does have a legal right to do what he wills with his own body.

        • omer
        • September 30th, 2012

        > Neither Nicklinson nor his family objected to his decision.
        > There’s no reason why you should.

        It is not a matter of our whims and desires. If you “desire” to be killed, it will remain so … just a desire. It cannot become a matter of policy.

        I am not aware of the case details. Of course I feel sorry for his condition, and if he desires his life to be taken, I feel sorry that he has come to this point. It shows that society and the system has failed him. Why should he take the punishment for somebody else’s failure.

        If his family is supportive, you can exclude family out from my argument. UK has a secular system, so you can keep religion out as well (even though religion is not my basic argument). But familiy and your desire is not an acceptable argument. There are moral and ethical issues which you do not want to acknowledge.

        Morality: Morality is linked with philosophy religion and culture. If it fits the definition, it is moral. If it goes against the three, it is immoral. A person demanding to take his life and us complying with his demand is immoral. However, you can find a reason using some philosophical argument, but the anti-philosophy of suicide is equally convincing 🙂

        Ethics: It is un-ethical to use Nicklinson as a case to settle philosophical arguments. And it is un-ethical to allow some-one to commit suicide to satisfy himself, even though he may be in a painful situation. A famine stricken Sudan or Ethiopia may demand to be nuked because it cannot bear the suffering of hunger anymore. Will the world powers accept their demand to be nuked? We have seen pictures of what happens to them. Will you shoot them in the head to end their suffering or should you re-focus your priorities and reach out to help them?

        > a person does have a legal right to do what he wills with his own body.

        The law can allow a person to do anything with his body, but it cannot sanction people demanding to be killed. There is a difference between body piercing and putting a bullet through the head!

      • Omer,

        He was being very well taken care of by his family and the government. The society was, in no way, responsible for his medical condition. Sometimes people suffer from disorders that are simply beyond human capacity to prevent or remediate.

        That only way in which the society failed him, was to deny him the quick, dignified end to suffering that he was so sorely demanding.

        A patient’s body is strictly his jurisdiction. That is why a patient, in every part of the world, is allowed to refuse medical treatment, even when it is known that this refusal would lead to the patient’s death. Treatment without consent is regarded as ‘assault’.

        Assisted suicide follows precisely the same principle, except that it hastens the process of death to reduce the patient’s period of suffering. It’s ludicrous why former is legal, but the latter isn’t.

      • My body is not a canvas for your philosophies and politics. It’s my biological property.

        I’m sorry, but there’s really no argument for us dictating another person what he can/cannot not do with his own body. We may discourage him from assuming a certain course, but the final decision remains his.

    • omer
    • October 1st, 2012

    Please read my posts properly and give some time to think and reply rather than react and reply to my posts. I never said society is responsible for his medical condition. And I already said it is un-ethical to use Nickilson to settle philosophical arguments. (But that does not mean there is none)

    You are also interpreting the consent letter wrongly. The consent letter is simply a legal document which protects the doctors and in some cases, the state from legal action if a treatment goes wrong. It can go wrong not by design or due to carelessness, but due to the probability that a treatment may simply not be successful. For instance, a treatment XYZ has a success rate of 80%. If you are unfortunately in the 20% category and you die, your relatives do not have the right to take legal action because they knew fully well the nature of the treatment. The consent letter does not give a suicide-license to the patient or the relatives to DENY a treatment.

    Any patient or his relative who denies a treatment, knowing well that it can lead to death or handicap is taken to court and punished by law. If you don’t agree to this, then you should acknowledge that those who are denying polio drops to children are RIGHT and JUSTIFIED because it is consent that matters!!!

    > I’m sorry, but there’s really no argument for us dictating another person …

    Whether you choose to acknowledge arguments or not is your prerogative. But really in a court of law you have to argue. Perhaps Nickilson lost because he had no argument other than his desire to die.

    As I said, a state cannot give the freedom to anyone who wants to kill himself. What about the other patients who have a similar condition as Nickilson? Do they want to die? Or should the state kill them also if they kill Nickilson? What about cancer patients … should the state rather kill them with a 5 dollar injection rather than spend milllions on their treatment? Why are there suicide helplines to stop you from committing suicide? Why do emergency services rush to prevent and save people who jumped from a building? Why are patients with suicidal tendencies reffered to pshicatrists for counselling?

    • Omer,

      Being a doctor, I’m perfectly well aware of the laws governing healthcare provision.

      A patient has a full right to refuse life-saving treatment. A patient is not obligated to sign the consent form, even if his life depends on it. Treating such a patient without his consent is legally regarded as ‘assault’.

      In other words, such passive suicide is legal throughout the world, including Pakistan where I practice medicine.

      However, there are a few (obvious) exceptions. This right requires a patient to be a consenting adult. A child or a psychologically unsound patient may be treated against consent. Also, if a parent refuses life-saving treatment for his child, that decision can be overruled by the state. I cannot deny my son, a separate individual, such treatment in the name of my freedom.

      In emergency cases, where the patient is not in a condition to accept or deny treatment, consent is always implied. Upon full consciousness, the patient may request for the treatment to be discontinued.

      This is how Nicklinson managed to have his death after all. By refusing life-saving meds, and dying from pneumonia. You may need to familiarize yourself with the case.

  1. Yes, the doctors may kill a cancer patient with a “five-dollar” injection, IF that is what the patients chooses. Cancer research, of course, would have to continue for the sake of the millions of other patients who want to live.

    My argument is not against suicide prevention in general. I’m not encouraging people to go and kill themselves. I’m arguing that they have a right to choose to end their lives, as long as they’re sane, consenting adults.

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