Dr Philip Graham is the Vice-chair of Dignity in Dying. He spent most of his working life as a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, and as an academic at its associated medical school. Since retirement, Dr Graham has worked on a largely voluntary basis as Chairman of the National Children’s Bureau and as a Community Governor of a secondary school in a deprived area of London.
80% of the public agree to some extent with assisted dying. If the right to death is as important as the right to life, why isn’t this mirrored in our government policy?
The majority isn’t always right, as, for example, with capital punishment. But in this case, the majority is right. There are a variety of reasons for resistance. The strength and power of religious leaders; the fear that MPs have that, like Evan Harris, they will be given labels like Dr. Death which will lose them votes; the conservatism and patriarchy of the medical profession – all are significant factors.
Benjamin Franklin once argued that a government which would give up a little essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserves neither. Was he right?
No, he wasn’t right. We must accept, for example, that there are times when, as a temporary measure, we must give up the right to get on a plane without being searched.
Benjamin Franklin’s statement is, in any case, irrelevant to the case for health-care assisted dying. On the contrary, those who, like me are in favour of health-care assisted dying for the terminally ill, want the dying to have more, not less liberty than they do now.
But is self-harm ever completely independent from harm to other people?
No. Of course people who take their own lives or self-harm to a less extreme degree always upset those around them. This needs to be taken into account when considering any legislation, but, in my view, it does not override other considerations
Do you have a solution to the slippery slope argument that the value of life would diminish if we legalise assisted dying?
If, because of suffering, pain and humiliation, a life has no value to the individual who is living it, then I can’t see how the value of that life can be diminished.
In fact, this is not the slippery slope argument which warns against the danger of the criteria becoming broader if legislation is passed. The situation in Oregon where legislation has been in place for 16 years without any attempt to broaden the criteria suggests this is not a serious risk.
A liberal society is one in which we are free to act as we wish so long as we do not harm other people. Do you agree?
Broadly speaking, I do agree. In particular, if we are not harming other people we should be free to act in ways that other people find morally offensive.