The hysterical reaction from some quarters to Terry Pratchett’s recent BBC documentary about assisted dying made me decide to resurrect this one from 2008.

In other news, Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub has a podcast interview with me online. I um and er a lot more than I thought. There’s a blog post to go with it, too.

Discussion (92)¬

  1. kennypo65 says:

    How about the fact that the more religious a person is, the more likely he will resort to more drastic measures to prolong his life. One would think that it would be the other way around. Aren’t they anxious to meet Jeebus? Perhaps they know, at some level, that it’s bullshit.
    Being a non-believer means that I know I will one day face death. We atheists learn to accept death; the believers use fairy tales to lie to themselves about it. They never face death, they hide from it.

  2. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Methinks Author has been watching Emmerdale!
    It’s always seemed strange to me how we (humankind in general, not us personally) won’t let a non-human animal suffer for longer than necessary, be it a family pet, farm animal or wild beastie, yet not only force ourselves to suffer but prolong and increase the suffering with ‘life-preserving’ drugs. Even stranger, if you treated an animal in pain as you would a person, you’d be charged with cruelty, whereas to help ease another’s suffering would see you charged with manslaughter at the very least.
    We are a very strange species indeed to allow such twisted values, and you don’t need three guesses to work out where this ‘taboo’ originates.

  3. Brother Daniel says:

    As I’ve said before: The cheerleaders of gratuitous pain and suffering will always portray themselves as the guardians of “life”.

  4. Chris Hunt says:

    I don’t understand why all these Bishops etc. couldn’t have a word with Him upstairs to defuse this issue entirely. If He could be persuaded to only inflict these horrible diseases on believers – who would presumably appreciate them properly as an example of His mercy.

    The rest of us could just get on with our lives.

  5. Yeah boy isn’t the reaction infuriating. “Oh the BBC is so biased!” sob the bishop and the No You Can’t Die When You Choose campaigner.

  6. So now we get to call you Dave! Much more friendly than author.

    Kindly don’t try to break the habit.

  7. You don’t um that much at all. Very fluent.

  8. truthspeaker says:

    “I um and er a lot more than I thought. ”

    Yeah, whenever I hear my voice played back I’m astonished at how little I sound like a character on TV with pre-written, rehearsed lines.

  9. Nassar Ben Houdja says:

    Nor good to get suckered by gloom
    And despair at the gathering doom
    To do yourself in
    Tends of be a sin
    To cause your self to attain the temperature of the room.

  10. Daz says:

    When I’m on that downward slide,
    Please allow me to go dignified.
    I’ve suffered more than enough,
    Without all your godly guff!
    My choice is painless suicide.

  11. Daoloth says:

    Dear Author. I am about to be on the radio myself–so I am familiar with the anxiety about sounding inarticulate. Please rest assured that you sound fine–authentic rather than halting–and I am told that the lack of bass is caused by the fact that our jawbones resonate only to our own ears. If I sound as good as you I will be pretty happy.

  12. Daz says:

    I meant to say, Author, you sounded fine to me. Relaxed even.

    I also want to fix me poem, ’cause the ending stinks. Not as badly as NBH’s horrendously over-long final line, but still…

    When I’m on that downward slide,
    Please allow me to go dignified.
    I’ve suffered more than enough,
    Without all your godly guff!
    My life is completely my own,
    Ev’ry synapse, muscle and bone.
    So as I enter that final decline,
    Please allow my to take what’s mine.

  13. HaggisForBrains says:

    Thank you David, for helping air this important issue. More of that later, as I want to listen to the interview, and then I have to take Mrs Brains (Fried to her friends) to have a CT scan.

    Meantime, check out

    We appear to be winning the war of words here.

    You might also want to read some of the submissions here:

  14. HaggisForBrains says:

    Good to hear your voice at last, and hardly any ums & ers. More of a dialogue than an interview, really.

  15. frannyy says:

    lovely to hear the ‘voice of reason’

  16. kiyaroru says:

    good interview
    I’d always hoped Author was female (an avatar of the Barmaid).
    I choose to continue to believe this.

  17. Bill says:

    I believe it was Stephen Fry, discussing interviews, who mentioned Christopher Hitchens as one of the few people in the world who can immediately launch into full blown paragraphs of content that can be published verbatim, without the conversational tics and trailings that most of us use.

    And on topic, as Billy Joel sang, “I don’t care what you say anymore, this is my life. Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone!”

  18. DarkerBahamut says:

    “And these sentiments were echoed by The Right Reverend Michael Nazir Ali…” Michael Nazi rally? Has the world really become a Monty Python sketch? Cue for Mr. Hilter and Mr. Bimmler entering the room…

  19. Danny says:

    Check jesuspall (dot) com – is something similar but more retarded

  20. HaggisForBrains says:

    I should like to us this discussion section to add a personal perspective to this debate, if I may. The following is an edited version of a submission of evidence made by my wife to the Commission on Assisted Dying about two months ago (but still not published on their website).

    “I am 54 years old and suffering from Stage IV Breast Cancer. Although I have great faith in, and admiration for, the scientists & doctors who work tirelessly and with incredible ingenuity to produce treatments which give people in my situation a good quality of life for as long as possible, the fact remains the condition is incurable. I have, therefore, had to come to terms with my death in the not too distant future. In this I am resigned, as I can do nothing to change the fact. The manner of my death, however, is another matter and, over this, I strongly feel I can and should be able to exert a degree of control.

    “If we accept we all have the right to live, then, surely, we must automatically also have the right to die.
    If suicide is legal, then it is illogical for the assisted suicide of a terminally ill person to be illegal!
    If a much-loved pet is “put to sleep” to avoid suffering, how can a civilised society countenance human beings having no choice but to suffer?

    “As an atheist, I find it a disgrace that the views of an unelected minority can be imposed on us all, as happened in the House of Lords in the vote on Lord Joffe’s Bill, defeated with the help of the Bishops.

    “Opponents of a change in legislation tell us that good palliative care, and not assisted dying, is the answer. Firstly, in spite of what they may say, assisted dying and palliative care are in no way mutually exclusive. However, can a guarantee be given to every dying person that a good level of care will be given? Whether it was provided or not can only be assessed after the event, which is of no use to the person on the receiving end. I, for one, want my final days to be, as far as possible, under my control, or that of my husband. Indeed, the assertion that pain can be controlled is a major worry for me. The World Health Organisation has developed a “Ladder of Pain”, which is a 3-step ladder for cancer pain relief. This goes from aspirin & paracetamol, through codeine, to strong opioids, such as morphine. On their website, it states that the regular administration of these will result in 80-90% of cancer patients being pain-free. This leaves 10-20% of us with the prospect of dying in severe, uncontrollable pain. As I have found that non-opioids & mild opioids do nothing to relieve my pain, and strong opioids cause very distressing side-effects, this WHO statistic, rather that reassuring me, leaves me terrified.

    “The question of “dignity” can also be a point of contention. I once heard a Palliative Care Nurse say that human dignity cannot be lost. As the concept of dignity is entirely subjective, how can she possibly make such a statement? I have had more than 30 operations over my life time, for various medical problems as well as cancer. From this wide experience, I can say that it makes no difference what is in the Patients’ Charters, the reality is that hospital staff frequently fall short of the target always to treat patients with respect and ensure their dignity is maintained.”

    Thank you for your patience in allowing me this platform. I’ll happily discuss this further if anyone wants to, and if Author doesn’t object.

  21. That’s always been the falling down point of saying that beleifs need to be respected – invariably, someone holds the beleif that their beleifs must be imposed on others.

  22. The other matter is determining what is “harm” – certainly the family of the comatose person is suffering – the person in the coma is not benefitting from the medical attention and someone else who has a recovery chance is getting less medical resources and medical staff time that is being devoted to extending and maintaining the existence of a person with slim to no recovery outcome.

    I had visited my mom in post-op and in the bed across from her was what I thought was a 12 year old small girl and her grandparents – it turned out that the “child” was a woman who had been basically comatose since infancy for almost 40 years, had never been conscious – what harm was being done to the parents, who refused to let go and get on with having a life, not to mention the 10s of millions of Canadian taxpayer dollars of medical resources, staff salary and other expenses to maintain a single unaware existance?

    Or the Texas mother who wanted her baby, who had been born with several genetic defects who fought to prevent the hospital from terminating life support – again taxpayer supported – because she wanted her baby to die as “god intended”; which, without human medical intervention, would have been the day it was born, not a year or anytime later.

    And yes, for godbots who declare that there’s an afterlife where they will reunited with their loved ones – they put an awful lot of effort into delaying when they go there – and I have always found that they grieve the loss of their loved ones is contradictory to beleiving they are with jayzuz

  23. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    @HaggisForBrains. Thank you for that post, an argument is the more powerful when it comes from one directly affected by the issue in question. Your wife’s words echo those of my mother when she was dying of throat cancer 25 years ago, aged just 51. Not that anybody in power listened of course, but hopefully we are seeing the beginnings of a long overdue change which will allow your wife to retain her dignity in death that was denied to my mother and the millions like her.

    On a lighter note, may I add my own wee rhyme to the earlier efforts? (I don’t know why I asked, I’m gonna do it anyway)!

    When the inevitable can’t be ignored
    And the time comes to fall on my sword
    I won’t get the hump
    Just book a parachute jump
    And won’t bother pulling the cord!

  24. Stonyground says:

    This subject has come up on the ‘Platitude of the Day’ blog due to Bishop Nazir Ali appearing on the today programme just after TftD. Rather than say it all again I reproduce my post here.

    “One more thing that needs to be said about Bishops and the CofE with regard to reforming the law on assisted dying, is that they have in the past had a consistent track record of being on the wrong side in such disputes. Abolishing slavery, providing access to contraception, women’s rights, rights for ethnic and religious minorities, the right to be cremated, gay rights, reform of divorce laws and on and on. The CofE and the Bench of Bishops always opposed such reforms. What is worse, once the reforms had been passed in spite of their opposition and became a part of every day life, once the disputes about them had become old news, the Church would quietly change sides and start claiming that they were at the forefront of the movement for change. Their opposition to assisted dying in this instance proves that they believe their own lies.”

  25. Stephen Turner says:

    Hey Author, you sounded great, and not at all hesitant. Well done! Also, doesn’t podcast mean “downloadable”?

    As nobody else has mentioned it, some J&Mers might not know of the blogger Eric MacDonald, whose wife died at Dignitas, and who wrote a really moving post about it just last week. He
    is always worth reading, and it’s only sometimes about the topic of this cartoon.

  26. HaggisForBrains says:

    Thanks Stephen for that link. I am moved almost beyond words. We will not use Dignitas, but will take whatever action we believe is right when the time is right.

  27. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    On a related note, I saw in yesterdays paper thet Camping (the loon who predicted the rapture/end of the world recently) is recovering in hospital after suffering a stroke. Now, I know that strokes are not funny but I couldn’t help but wonder; when the stroke hit how long did it take him to go from “I feel a rapture coming on, my god has chosen me” to “Shit, I need a hospital, I don’t want to die”?

  28. ShaftManlik says:

    If the other side are so affronted why don’t they make a documentary of their own. Maybe show some Human Being who’s last days are in a prolonged morphine haze and who is doubly incontinent and explain to us why it is god’s will that this situation should be prolonged without the person in question’s opinion on the matter being consulted.

    That should redress the imbalance that they see!

  29. There really is no difference between a beleiver and their god and a person who remains faithful to a partner who batters them – other than the battered person has the dubious benefit of the actual presence of their abuser

  30. FreeFox says:

    Hmm. I find that a really hard one. Not because of any God. I agree with previous posters pointing out that the existance of some perfect eternal life should actually make it really easy to be in favour of any form of hastened dying. As the monk, papal legate, and inquisitor charged with dealing with the Cathars Arnaud Amalric said to the military commander about how to figure out who was a heretic and who not: “Kill them all. For the Lord knows them that are His.” Death should really not all that difficult a subject for Christians, and apparently it isn’t for a very outspoken Muslim minority. It’s for those of us who have to make the most of this life that I find the answer is more muddled than some here make it out to be.
    In the case of adult people of sound mind with only pain and loss of dignity to look forward to, in the comforts of home or a modern hospital, access to relatively painless poisons, and surrounded by well-meaning, honest, loving doctors, friends, and family… no, there is of course nothing whatsoever wrong with having the legal option of chosing death over a life they deem not worth living any more. No contest.
    Would that life always was so clear. And please believe me, I do not write this as someone who is a stranger to pain or loss. I’ve tried twice to take my own life (if to avoid emotional, not physical pain), I am crippled, I lost a very beloved sister to a very painful cancer with metastases in the liver and the bones. And 3 years ago suffered rather sever frostbite that cost me two fingers and a lot of skin and some muscle mass. When you’ve been through the thawing of your own flesh, you know what pain is. I know there are many reasons to want to check out, and personally I wouldn’t ever hold it against any one to try or to try to help a friend. Honestly.
    But… (and as Benjen recently pointed out “nothing someone says before the word ‘but’ really counts”) we are not talking about morals, or even ethics, or about what anyone decides to do for himself. We are talking about a societal decision, a legal course.
    I know you all think you could contain this on the beneficial single-patient-who -really-wants-to-die case. But I think if you do, you don’t know human beings. The moment this is an official option without a high personal consequence for the doctor or family member who does it, there will be pressure.
    A few of you know how hard it is to have someone with a terrible, debilitating illness in the family. How long until the sick ones would begin to feel the obligation to let the healthy ones go on with their lives? Who decides about the comatose, about children, about the mentally incapacitated? When will impatient heirs begin to pressure their dying benefactors to hurry up before all the nice dough is gone? And once this meme is well entranched, what is to stop us from going the next step and simply save money on the hopeless cases so we got more for those who will benefit from it “better”? When will we begin to decide about worthy and worthless life again? You say, that is not what you want… but can you be certain you aren’t paving the way for this? This is a very slippery slope, and we are dead so very, very long. Every time you err in favour of life, there is a chance you did so right, while an error for death is irreversible.
    I know that for those few who truly suffer, the price can be high. But it is a price paid to protect all those in danger of becoming expandable, once killing becomes legal. (I am mostly speaking for those civilized countries that unlike the US do not have a death penalty. And we’ve all seen where their slippery slope has taken them, with or without God.)
    Also, we are talking only about those very few who really are so incapacitated that they no longer can get up onto the hospital roof, or who are so constantly supervised that they no longer can use a belt or bin bag on themselves. For those few, well, if you do love someone that much and want to spare them such horrible pain and indignity, well, we all have the freedom to do what is right and live with the consequences, within or without the law, right? And yes, there, too, I know what I am talking about.
    It is easy to construct best case scenarios to legitimize massive rules changes, like the one for euthanasia or for giving more police power to governments or for regulating the internet to protect us from child pornography… but these laws have more consequences than the ones we intended them to have.
    Playing around with the one, brief life we have… I’m sorry, I think it is a very bad idea.

  31. Ketil W.Grevstad says:


  32. Daoloth says:

    I would like to start by stating that I have no personal pain to draw on–what I have to say is motivated by a desire for consistency only.
    It occurs to me that right to access to dignified death is a special case in the more general libertarian movement for self-ownership? This is something that has had to be gragged from the powers that be and has been hard fought over the years. The freedom to have sex with who we choose–as long as they can also make mature choices–the freedom to do what we want with our bodies–including poisoning them with drugs if we like, and similar freedoms (such as access to porn) have always had to be wrested from the typically religious (not always–political totalitarianiasm also achives this) powers that be.
    The essence of their claim, it seems to me, is that you do not own yourself. Nothing else can justify their claims over your body and (if you like) soul.
    Scratch any of the claims to “harm to society” underlying any of the repressive positions and I submit that you will find a puritan, often hypocritical, attitude to non-self ownership. And that requires some nimble metaphysical justification which cannot bear the weight asked of it–usually because it– “The state”, “God” either does not exist or does not exist as an entitiy which can have interests.

  33. HaggisForBrains says:

    @ ShaftManlik – I was so much in agreement with this idea that I have taken the liberty of copying it over to, where I know it will be appreciated.

    @ FreeFox – the following is quoted from

    Slippery Slope
    This logical fallacy is the argument that a position is not consistent or tenable because accepting the position means that the extreme of the position must also be accepted. But moderate positions do not necessarily lead down the slippery slope to the extreme.

  34. Necessary Evil says:

    The good Bertrand Russell wrote:”Uncertainty, in the presence of vivid hopes and fears, is painful, but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales … To teach how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralysed by hesitation, is perhaps the chief thing.”

    One argument for euthanasia is economic: “I will help save the environment by dying, and save society some money.” To allow an association between saving and dying is anathema to many. That surely is the main argument against euthanasia, so dogmatic arguments aren’t necessary or particularly useful.

  35. HaggisForBrains says:

    @ Author (& Necessary Evil) – I think we need to be careful about the terminology here. Please don’t confuse euthanasia with assisted dying, that simply plays into the hands of the slippery slope arguers.

  36. sweetpityfulmercy says:

    Well. Perhaps the Author has said all s/he wants to say now. We see no new material, save for once in a blue moon. Thats a shame really.

  37. @Freefox I hear you, but as usual I disagree with you. All the ills and dangers you list are happening already. The right to do whatever I want with my body is not.
    @Daoloth well put. I’ve never accepted any drug laws. They seem to me to all be an attempt to preserve the monopoly of the medical profession over the right to poison us, as they are currently doing with the prescribing of anti-depressants. It offends me to have the responsibility for my own body taken away from me and handed to the same people who mutilated my body within days of my birth.
    Not that I have anything against the medical profession, or any use for quackery such as homeopathy. But handing our self-ownership to anybody is a mistake.

  38. @Freefox on a more compassionate note, I truly am sorry to hear about your history of pain.
    @HaggisforBrains I’ve just read the link to the Choice in Dying site. Mr.s Brains is obviously a very brave and intelligent woman. I’m very sorry I will not get to meet her. I hope she can make her exit with the dignity she deserves. My sisters and I are facing the impending death of our mother right now, from a particularly horrible form of cancer that promises months of unbearable pain. I don’t know how much can be done to ease the suffering. Mrs. Brains is very lucky to have a man like you at her side and on her side. Thank you both for sharing your story.

  39. HaggisForBrains says:

    @ DH – you’re welcome. Mrs B finds that it helps to support the campaign in a small way, even if any change in the law here will probably be too late to help her. If I can, I will do what is necessary, and bugger the law!

  40. euthanasia happens a lot more in hospitals with doctor assistance than people care to admit – it’s very easy to allow someone to override the controls on the morphine drip to ensure an entirely painless passage

    we are all gonig to die at some point and what’s the value of extending a life for mroe days, weeks or months, when there is no hope of a meaningful recovery and just a long, drawn out death that is emotionally hard on everyone – family, friends and the medical staff too

    when medical bills are a leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the US – why should the prolonged loss of a spouse also cost you your house?

    this religious terror of death – which makes no sense given their claims of being certain there’s an afterlife – is costing too much both in terms of money and emotional pain

  41. Techs says:

    My wifes very old grandmother was in a very nice nursing home due to a stroke that left her significantly paralysed. We visited her often. She had a living will that said no resuscitation if she died. She had several more strokes that did not affect her mental condition and the last one came with a heart attack the killed her. The doctors revived her. She was now almost completely paralysed. Her children and other grandchildren almost never visited. She could still talk a little and every time we visted her for the next year or so till she finally died, she asked us to kill her.

  42. Jobrag says:

    I think that the religious view is that by killing yourself you are usurping God’s authority to time your demise to His or Her convenience. I’m not sure how they justify killing in war but probably something along the lines that your enemies are God’s enemies, and are thus going to hell, and who the f%$# cares if the Devil is inconvenienced.
    One series of Old Harry’s Game dealt with the problem of Hell filling up I think it’s on YOUTUBE.

  43. HaggisForBrains says:

    @ Jobrag – “I think that the religious view is that by killing yourself you are usurping God’s authority to time your demise to His or Her convenience.”

    Yes I’m sure that that is a big part of it. The irony which the religious types all seem to miss is that keeping someone alive through medical intervention must therefore also be usurping god’s authority. So hell is going to be even busier, with all these doctors and nurses down there. Should be a good party though ;-).

  44. HaggisForBrains says:

    PS Old Harry’s Game was one of the best radio programmes I have heard.

  45. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    @Jobrag & Haggis For Brains;
    I was told by a cat-lick of my aquaintance that suicide is a no-no because ‘man was made in God’s image, and to murder oneself was tantamount to the attempted murder of God, so they have to be punished accordingly.
    I pointed out that, as God was supposed to be immune from all that ‘life and death’ stuff that so plagues us mere humans, wasn’t it being just a tad petty to order eternal suffering for that particular ‘crime’. I likened it to a man, caught standing on a mountain top aiming a hosepipe at the sun, being imprisoned for life for the attempted murder of all mankind.
    Needless to say, he couldn’t see the connection, but they never do, do they?

  46. Stonyground says:

    Glad to meet some fans of Old Harry’s Game here, sometimes I feel as though I am the only one alive. I particularly liked the Health and Safety guy and the scene where the Prof. keeps changing the subject to talk about beards every time that Marx asks him how communism worked out.

  47. FreeFox says:

    @Haggis, ntrygg, DH:
    Wow. Um. Bit at a loss of words.

    “what’s the value of extending a life for more days, weeks or months”
    “why should the prolonged loss of a spouse also cost you your house?”

    Are you peeps serious? If you have to ask about the value of any second of life… all life, any life is just a brief flicker in a sea of darkness. Hey, what’s the worth of life on our tiny pale blue dot in this infinity of coldness and nothing?
    Life isn’t just worthy if it is perfect, healthy, pain-free, and as “dignified” as the Hollywood ending of some cheap summer romance flick. Life is messy, hard, a struggle. How about the millions of starving, sick, poor all over the world, going on through pain and indignities and misery?

    About the slippery slope: Sure, HFB, strictly speaking, as a theoretical exercise, there is absolutely no actual necessity that one thing must lead to another. But as someone born in Germany and brought up with the political message: “Wehret den Anfängen!” (Beware of Beginnings!), it is not so easy to dismiss this argument as a mere fallacy. And as you can see in this discussion here, the slide has already begun. Already life has become a mere commodity to be weighed against real estate and the bother to stand by someone, a cheap trinket, and not something unique and of invaluable preciousness to be guarded against the finality of death.

    And @Techs I can only say: The way you tell it it sounds as if the problem wasn’t that your grandma-in-law wasn’t allowed to die. The problem was that apparently nobody gave a damn about her and she was lying there for a year helpless and alone. Don’t you think she would prefer if her children and grandchildren simply had taken care of her? But of course, it’s easier to just dispose of someone who becomes a burden.

    I remember the last weeks of my sister, her hunger for every bit of life, the way she treasured the taste of a simple cup cocoa, sipped carefully through a straw, on her very last day, when she was hardly able to swallow anymore; and the feeling of gratitude I have every morning I wake up, since the dark night Neikuts and Anda saved me from my freely chosen death, and I cannot help but be thoroughly disgusted by some of what I read here.

  48. Jobrag says:

    On the subject of death and dying one of the questions I’ve never had a satisfactory answer to is; why did Jesus think that he was doing Lazarus a favour?

  49. FreeFox says:

    @Jobrag: I think it can be assumed quite safely that wanting to live is the default position. Or why are you still here and writing comments? There are certainly well justified exceptions, but they are the exceptions. After all, as far I know according to the tale Jesus did not leave Lazarus so impeded that he would be incapable of taking his leave again, if he so desired.

  50. @FreeFox Wonderful. We’ve awakened your moral indignation. I think you are rather confused about what has been said on this site, and the feelings behind what’s been said. You are polarizing the discussion beyond where it should go.
    Your arguments simplify the discussion to a juvenile level. As I said, the ills and dangers you describe are already happening. But they are happening under the table, the equivalent of back alley abortions. At the moment I am perfectly healthy, as far as I know. Believe me, I suck the marrow from life, and savor every minute and flavor. But I want, in fact I demand, the right to end my life myself should I decide it’s time. It’s my life, my body. I am not owned by any state or culture or religious group. If you say that helping me to die is not an option, then I may have to die before I need help. Do you see this as an improvement?

  51. FreeFox says:

    @DH: Where is it happening that people are pressured to die to save costs or to stop inconveniencing their relatives?

  52. FreeFox says:

    @DH: Ah, posts crossed. Um, not certain if I am misunderstanding you or you are misunderstanding me. I certainly do not want to stop anyone to kill himself. And it is very hard to keep someone truly determined from doing that. People do it all over the place, all the time, with no negative reprercussions for anyone (after all, their death isn’t negative in their own view.)

    The problem is only those very, very few who are truly beyond being able to do it themselves. (Seriously, even if they cannot leave a hospital bed, there is no law in any remotely civilised country I know of against leaving an empty plastic bag with a suffering loved one. And if they happened to put their head into it at night, all on their own, nobody goes to jail or anything. So, we really only talk about those few who could not even do that, right?) But with those few, yes, I think it is morally very complicated. I am not saying that there aren’t cases where some gentle chemical kiss of death wouldn’t be a totally justified mercy. But permitting it legally does apparently (and those quotes are from this board) quickly disintegrate into a squabble for money. And I don’t think my fear that there are a lot of weak, sick people out there who no longer have the strength to defend themselves, but whose death wouldn’t even be remotely “voluntary”, is all that fantastic.

    I don’t begrudge anyone the right to do with their own body what they damn well please. But not at the risk of others losing that right over theirs.

  53. FreeFox says:

    And more as a PS or maybe question for clarification: I don’t know how the law is iny our countries, but the way I know it, for grow-up people it is usually always an option to refuse any sort of medical treatment. We are not talking about keeping someone alive against their explicit wishes. Just about letting someone die who is no longer capable to make that request, or who is a minor or mentally incapacitated, or actively killing someone who is physically so incapacitated that they cannot do so themselves…

  54. Jobrag says:

    If you are dead and have gone to heaven, surely Lazarus must have gone to heaven, why would being wrenched back to life be the default condition? Apart from being removed from the presence of his God he would then run the risk of offending that God and ending up in hell. To an atheist yes being bought back from the dead would be wonderful but to a believer?

  55. FreeFox says:

    @Jobrag: Are you certain he would have gone to heaven? Even according to that particular mythology? I’m not all that familiar with the details of the different Christian heavenly entrance exams, but as far as I know, that gate was only opened with Jesus own death. That was the point of his message, after all, exchanging the previous political promisses God had given “his people” (the descendents of Abraham) with this new “eternal life” for everyone who “believeth in me”. So, perhaps Lazarus didn’t yet believe. Or he had to wait for Jesus execution before he could co-ascend. How about the physical resurrection on the “last day” and a phyiscal paradise here on earth. In that case the time in between was just waiting in some limbo. More fun being a few more days alive.

    (And lastly, I’m not even certain Jesus did it so much for Lazarus’s benefit. He was after all trying to convince peeps he could grant “eternal life” and “conquer death” (which sounds a bit like Voldemort, actually), so maybe Lazarus was just a case in point.)

  56. HaggisForBrains says:

    @ FreeFox – I hope for your sake that you never find yourself terminally ill, in great pain, and only a plastic bag to relieve your suffering. Off course, if you are paralysed as well, you wno’t even have that option.

    Getting back to the Terry Pratchett documentary, in the Newsnight debate following it, the right rev. Michael Langrish complained about lack of balance from the BBC, in not showing enough of the hospice alternative at the end of life, and this complaint was repeated on the Today programme, and has been aired elsewhere. I agree with the bishop on this point, and believe that the BBC should air a one-hour documentary following various people with differing conditions through the process of dying in a hospice. To be a fair comparison, this should continue to the point of death, and should include people who have requested and been refused assisted dying. Again, in fairness, any pain or indignity suffered by these people should not be edited out, so that we may make a fair comparison based on evidence.

  57. FreeFox says:

    @Haggis: Thank you. So do I. And I wish you the same. ^_^

    Though as I said, I’m no stranger to serious pain or non-clinical attempts to end suffering. And yeah, if I ever find myself in such a position I would be grateful for a friend willing to risk prosecution. But I’m quite convinced I still wouldn’t want others to have to suffer “Inuit Sled-ride ends” for my comfort.

    “You see, I believe in freedom, Mr. Lipwig. Not many people do, although they will, of course, protest otherwise. And no practical definition of freedom would be complete without the freedom to take the consequences. Indeed, it is the freedom upon which all the others are based.”
    – Terry Pratchett (Going Postal, 2004)

  58. carolita says:

    love the sin, hate the sinner!

  59. MarkyWarky says:

    @Haggis, I found your wife’s arguments very moving, and agree entirely. I hope that, when the time comes, there is no need for these awful decisions to be made.

    The only thing I’m less clear on is her statement that “If suicide is legal, then it is illogical for the assisted suicide of a terminally ill person to be illegal!”. I think she means whether suicide is assisted or not, it’s still suicide, and should therefore be illegal, but there IS a difference between “committing” assisted suicide, and being someone who assists it. The latter needs to be controlled to make sure that it is not abused, because after the event the dying person is no longer around to convince us it’s what they wanted.

    Taking your own life with assistance is NOT illegal, it’s providing the assistance that is.

    I don’t think the required checks and balances are impossible to provide, or should be any barrier to us allowing people to go the way they want to go, but I do think it’s not as easy as it may appear. You are obviously a caring husband, and will do what is right for your wife with no thought for yourself, but sadly not all families are like you.

    The more sensible opponents of assisted suicide (which is sadly not the majority of them) simply place their concern about this above their concern about the individual. They think that one case of unwanted assisted suicide is worse than countless cases where it’s wanted but denied. I don’t agree with them, but do understand where they’re coming from.


  60. MarkyWarky says:

    Sorry, “and should therefore be illegal” should of course read “and should therefore be legal”


  61. HaggisForBrains says:

    @MarkyWarky – Yes, you are right, what she means is that providing the assistance should not be illegal, with appropriate safeguards.

    The End of Life Assistance Bill which failed to proceed through the Scottish Parliament last December was in my view very well drafted to provide safeguards. You can see it here:

    Sadly the thinly disguised religious lobby held sway with many members, dragging out all the usual logical fallacies such as strawman and slippery slope arguments, and off course went around persuading the disabled that if passed this law would diminish their worth – what a load of shite!

    We shall keep trying in both parliaments, but any result may well be too late for Mrs Brains, who has every intention of dying at home at a time of her own choosing

  62. MarkyWarky says:

    @Haggis – that all looks very reasonable to me. The only thing I’d add to it would be guidelines for the practitioner and Psychiatrist. The bill requires the professionals to talk to the person about their reasons, but doesn’t tackle what are and are not “good” reasons.

    For example, a person could be quite capable of the decision, yet requesting the end of life assistance because “I don’t want to be a burden anymore”.

    Other unacceptable reasons for the request might be:

    – “I want to meet my maker”

    – “I want to let my daughter get on with her life”

    – “I’m frightened of the pain/loss of dignity/etc”, where those things are not to be reasonably expected from the condition suffered.

    I just think that, even if held by a perfectly coherent person, those reasons and their kind could all to easily be planted by people with other interests.

    It’s one case where a persons consideration of others should be a reason to doubt that the request should be allowed. I’d be most inclined to believe someone should be granted help if their reasons were entirely selfish.

    Of course, the necessary requirement for a person to be capable of the request makes it impossible for us to help a proportion of people avoid suffering, but I’m not sure I see a way around that. Perhaps defining your wishes while well could work, but who decides when it’s time to apply those wishes, and who genuinely knows ahead of time what it’s really like to be a dying person?

  63. the same way that a woman may obtain an abortion for whatever reason, I think end of life – death with dignity – should be afforded the same consideration

    each of us has to decide for ourselves at what point life does not remain worth living in – and it’s no one else’s place to make that decision while we are capable to voice the decision and preference for death

    that said, people who want to have every moment, no matter the pain, cost or toll on others, are entitled to that life as well

    but one person’s fear of death and their personal preference for life at any cost – shouldn’t override my wish to die and be free from pain, dementia or a comatose existance

  64. MarkyWarky says:

    @randon, except that, at end of life, some people are vulnerable. You only have to look at how some elderly people are conned out of their savings to realise it’d be easy, over time, to convince them that they were a burden, or were holding up someone else’s life, or were going to suffer a horribly undignified or painful death.

    I agree that if they really want to, people should have the right to go for whatever reason, EXCEPT because someone else wants them to, and that’s what we have to protect against.

    It’s not difficult, but it does need to be done.

  65. HaggisForBrains says:

    @ rn – I agree. It’s my personal view that a psychiatrist should be assessing mental competence only, not whether or not the reasons are good. I realise many will disagree, but my sole criterion would be “is the person mentally competent to make this decision”. The reason is irrelevant to anyone other than the person wishing to die.

    Personally, should I chose to commit suicide rather than be a burden to my children, then to me that is a rational choice. If it has been influenced by my children, then that is my problem, but if I felt unwanted by my children then rationally I could decide to die, rather than feel unwanted. There is nothing irrational about feeling that one is a burden, and such feelings detract from one’s self worth.

    In making these points, it should be remembered that if able, I would simply end my life myself. Why not, therefore, allow me to obtain a suitable elixir from a reliable source to carry out this wish? Surely that is much better than the alternative of a messy suicide in front of a train, or a botched job with painkillers leaving me even worse off.

  66. FreeFox says:

    @HFB: You seem to be quite taken by the old Christian “Free Will” meme, in spite of the neurobiological evidence to the contrary… ^_^

  67. MarkyWarky says:

    Presumably then you’d argue that a person’s money is their own, and they can give it away for whatever reason they like? I’d agree with you, but would still say (as society in general does), that there need to be safeguards in place to prevent people from putting someone under pressure to make a decision they wouldn’t otherwise make.

    I agree that not wanting to burden your family MIGHT be a valid reason, but what if you only feel like that because someone has gradually but deliberately made you feel like that?

    I’m not talking about the mentally strong and pragmatic here, such as your wife. I’m talking about the vulnerable, who are mentally well yet open to persuasion; maybe just too trusting. I can think of at least one elderly member of my family who, using a few seemingly innocuous comments, could easily be convinced that she was a burden when in fact she’s not.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know what the answer is, and agree that doing nothing is unacceptable, but think an unrestricted scheme that doesn’t examine the reasons at all is open to abuse.

  68. HaggisForBrains says:

    OK MW, I have to agree that in spite of my simplistic view stated above, we probably need some safeguards. On the other hand, there is also the problem, touched on in Terry Pratchett’ documentary, of close relatives putting pressure on someone NOT to commit suicide, again for selfish reasons. It was clear that Mrs Smedley was not in agreement with her husband’s decision, no matter how reasoned it was to him. How do we protect against that?

    @ FF – I’m sorry, but you’ll have to explain that one to me.

  69. MarkyWarky says:

    By having an assessment process that is independent of families, and looks deaply into the reasons I guess. The only way to overcome pressure NOT to take this route is to have information available so everyone understands all of their options.

    But ultimately, it’s surely more difficult to convince someone to stop feeling that life is over than it is to influence them into feeling hopeless. I mean if they can be convinced that all hope and dignity is not lost, and decide against ending it, that can only be a good thing?

    Of course it can’t be perfect, and people could still be made to feel guilty for making this decision. We need a cultural change to overcome that.

  70. that some people are vulnerable to scams at any age, shouldn’t mean that those people who are smart enough and capable enough to make life decisions shouldn’t be legally able to.

    otherwise, we may as well just turn over the halls of power to the dumbest people and put them in charge

    Having recently been subjected to assessments by psychiatrists, I can say that I don’t hold them in particular high esteem when they are just people who are just as limited by their intelligence and biases – which they can too easily impose on a person to deny them

    if a person says that they wish to die, then who is anyone to override them? We don’t know what makes life bearable for one and intolerable to another?

    what if chosing our death is the only true act of free will that we can engage in?

    why are we presuming that someone wants to die is just lacking information about options?

    the option is death or continued living in the conditions that one finds intolerable.

    especially for people facing dementia and end stage of terminal illness?

  71. FreeFox says:

    @HFB: Re – Free Will. Well, your model of us humans seems to be big on the idea that everyone should be utterly free of outside influence, not just the influence of law and well armed cops enforcing it, but alos the inner freedom to be able to determine exactly what you want. Like in that Crowlean sense of “Do What Thou Wilt”, you know, do your true, inner will.
    But that whole idea of a distinct “You”, seperated from the world in that Cartensian dualism, you know, the world out there and my untouchable thoughts in here, that is a totally religious concept. Closely related to that idea of some seperate soul that holds your true essence.
    As far as i can figure out (and I’m no neuroscientist, just someone who reads a lot of wikipedia articles and follows the links there), that’s not how we work. There is no special place of free conscious will and agency within us. Our brain is more this complex many-chambered construct, where decisions are made on many levels all the time, and almost all of our conscious perception of our own will is only constructed to smooth things over. What we think of as our “self” is mostly a mask, an interface, designed to allow cooperation and information sharing. That “self” you can feel isn’t your King, or President at all. It’s at best your ambassador, or some PR spokesperson. Even though we feel it’s all there is to us, it is really the least important part of our decision making.
    There is no freedom. Independent of the law, I mean. There isn’t even a clear line seperating you from others. Your parents genes are part of you, the values that were instilled in you, your mirror neurons keep copying part of other people’s fears and desires into you, as theirs keep copying parts of you into them. Depending what you want from people, you are more or less influenced by what they want – and not even what they say the want, but much more what the subconsciously project they want, etc. (Like, everyone thinks they could never be swayed by commercials and advertisments. But if that were so, do you really think the companies would keep spending billions on spot, jingles, and placards?)

  72. MarkyWarky says:

    @random, I suggest you re-read my posts to see if I was suggesting or presuming any of those things. I explicitly said that people SHOULD have the free choice you argue for, just that we should be sure in each case that it IS a free choice.

    Having safeguards does not have to mean denying the “service” to those that really want it.

    I said very clearly that the need for information about the available options was needed by those under pressure NOT to take the assisted suicide route. Are you suggesting that people in pain or with lost dignity should not be made aware that the option exists? Again, please read before replying.

    Trying to polarise an argument in order to win it, or trying to fit other people’s statements to your own view of what your “opposition” believes, in order to shoot it down, is never very attractive.

  73. @ MarkyWarky

    I was saying that people shouldn’t be presumed to be lacking the information about options.

    That’s the part of your post that i find issue with – not safeguards, but safeguards on the presumption that the person is somehow unaware of alternatives –

    it’s a bit like telling a person that they can’t know they are gay until they’ve had hetero sex – they know what turns their crank without having to make sure they aren’t interested in the other options

    people don’t make decisions to die frivolously and you shouldn’t have to have a terminal disease to qualify – each of us should be legally allowed to end our lives for whatever reason we see fit

    I say legally to ensure that people who chose it do not risk bungling it and end up alive and incapacitated – worse off than before and unable to end it.

  74. HaggisForBrains says:

    @ FF – I guess it’s my fault for asking, but I’m not into philosophy, and I’m afraid you lost me quite early on. I didn’t realise that what I thought was a simple statement of my personal view would lead into such a complicated assessment. Never mind.

    @ RN I agree with both your recent posts.

  75. FreeFox says:

    @ntrygg: “each of us should be legally allowed to end our lives for whatever reason we see fit” – What about clinical depression? Or post-partem depression? Person’s suffering from that can be quite convinced that life is no longer bearable and that there is no hope and that death is the best option. They can be neurologically incapable of seeing other options, and yet, perhaps it would be better to give them pills against depression instead of pills against being alive. How about a passionate eighteen year old with a severly broken heart. Would you hand him a syringe full of permanent lethe as well?

    @HFB: Well, it’s a personal view on an awefully complicated situation. But before you legalise the killing of people, perhaps it would be adviseable to work out such questions as when a person is at all capable of making such a “free” decision, don’t you think?

    In general, I am often astonished how many fundamentally religious ideas are still being blithely bandied about by outspoken self-styled “atheists”. ^_^

  76. MarkyWarky says:

    @random: PLEASE read my posts. I was replying to Haggis saying that there was pressure put on people NOT to take the assisted suicide route, and was suggesting that then only safeguard possible against that was to make them aware that that option existed. So not the options for palliative care or pain relief, the option to bow out gracefully despite pressure from others.

    And even if I was saying what your trying to suggest I did say, it’s no-where near the same as the gay example you give. Are you telling me you’d want someone to make this kind of final decision without knowing what alternative care was available to them? They’re free to reject such care of course, but I’d want any relative of mine, in fact any human being, to know all of the facts before deciding on such a thing.

  77. Ed says:

    I enjoyed the podcast and did not notice any ums or ers. And of course, Jesus and Mo is great! Thanks.

  78. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Quick Author, another comic please, this constant bickering is getting on my wick, and if they don’t stop it I’ll be forced to come up there and give them both a bit of assistance whether they like it or not!

  79. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Whoa, I think I was just possessed by the ghost of my mum. Who’dathunkit?

  80. random ntrygg says:


    I don’t think a person should have to be ill to make the decision to die, so there will not always be care options to consider.

    Any person, at any time, for any reason. Suicide, safe, legal, rare.

    Like abortion on demand.

  81. Daoloth says:

    @FF. Your description is certainly supported by scientists such as Norretranders (“the User Illusion”) and Wegner (“The Illusion of Conscious Will”) and Sam Harris, of course (e.g., I would agree with you as well–the folk concepy of free will gets no support from studying the brain.
    Indeed this is at the root of a lot of antipathy to psychology. At the moment it is evo psych that is getting a hard time but before that it was behaviorism. Whatever. People don’t like to be told that theyare machines, or animals. They are wedded to the idea that their ambassador is King (great analogy BTW–is it yours? If I use it will someone say I pinched it from somewhere?)
    However–in physics we have effective theories–ones that model observed phenomena (e.g. falling to earth) without the necessity to describe the underlying forces in detail (e.g., the interactions of all 10^26 particles in a human body with the 10^40 ones in the planet).
    I submit that free will is an effective theory for the purposes of regulating conflicting interests in the legal and political realms, just as human rights is. Both concepts can be pulled apart rather easily–but do provide useful rule of thumb guidance, while always remembering the caveats that you have brought up.
    What do you think?

  82. Daoloth says:

    Just read what I wrote. Planet would have about 10^50 particles. Whatever. Point stands

  83. MarkyWarky says:

    @random, if society is going to offer people help to die, then society needs to be 100% sure it’s really what the person wants and not what someone else wants. While it’s OK to allow people to do whatever they want in this respect, we should not be helping them without good reason.

    Even in the situation you describe, are you really telling me you’d allow a loved one to take their own life without trying to talk to them about options? It’s simply what decent human beings do; offer help that might make the last resort unnecessary.

    Of course it remains the individual’s decision, but if my brother had been treated the way you suggest when he tried to take his own life years ago, he’d not be the happy content person he is now, he’d be dead.

    It’s extremely difficult to dig yourself out of the pits of despair, but it can often be done with help.

    Anyway, I thought this debate was about euthanasia for those at the end of their lives, with little in front of them other than pain and indignity. I support that, but not what you suggest, which is giving people absolute rights without society taking any responsibility.

  84. @markywarky

    only to the same degree that this safeguard is in place for abortions.

  85. @markywarky

    “decent human beings”? that’s a moral judgement and entirely dependant on which moral system one uses.

    amoral people are not indecent –

    not respecting someone else’s soveriegnty is indecent to me

    and when discussing broad issues, it’s not helpful to use emotionally loaded appeals like what if it was your relative

    I would expect me to respect the personal soveriegnty of my relative the same that I would a stranger – why should I not afford my relatives the same courtesy?

    there was a suicide in my family, to be honest, the only way his death at 35 with no health problems and a clean toxic screen makes sense is suicide – I found a great deal of comfort in understanding it that way.

  86. Necessary Evil says:

    I won’t die. I’ve decided who is to inherit my avatars so I can live forever.

  87. IndoPersian1969 says:

    Author dear, please make it so that we can post a particular comic to our Facebook page. I’d love for this one to appear on my wall. I’m sure there’s a way to do it…just like we do when we read stuff we like on CNN or Huffington or wherever else and then post it to our walls. Many thanks for all the wonderful years of entertainment and enlightenment!

  88. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    @IndoPersian; If beloved Author will allow (if not, I won’t cry if this post is deleted, I’m not sure how copyright works), have you tried right-clicking over the comic and using the ‘save picture as..’ function?

  89. Ana says:

    Very good interview.
    Great cartoons.
    I love them.
    I love you, the author, for drawing them.

  90. HaggisForBrains says:

    Well, this brings back some memories. I still stand by my arguments at the time in favour of assisted suicide. I might add that my late wife, when in the final sharp decline of her cancer, managed to arrange a painless end to her suffering, with a little (illegal) help. She died peacefully on 12 March 2013. Her memory is precious to me.

    I still support any moves to legalise assisted dying, will all the safeguards I discussed above.

    Thank you, Author, for resurrecting this classic.

  91. HaggisForBrains says:

    with all the safeguards…


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