Should we be able to choose our own death?

The BBC Ideas website has recently added a short video titled ‘Should we be able to choose our own death?’. Although MDMD had no part in its making, it demonstrates one really good way of achieving our goal.

It is a personal opinion piece by philosopher Nigel Warburton. He starts by asking us to imagine a world where we get what we all deserve: a good death. He then continues to describe his utopian vision of “Good Death Centres”.

The safeguards he proposes are well aligned with those of MDMD. To receive medical assistance to die at one of Warburton’s proposed “Good Death Centres” the applicant must satisfy the following conditions:

  • Undergo thorough psychological examination and counselling by trained experts with experience in end of life situations.
  • Have sufficient mental capacity to make a life-ending decision
  • Demonstrate a genuine desire for a medically assisted death
  • There must be a good reason, such as a painful terminal illness or the first signs of dementia
  • The person must have a well informed understanding of their situation and the alternative options available

As the video says at the end… “Its a comforting thought”.

Another comforting thought is provided by palliative care doctor Kathryn Mannix in her video ‘Dying is not as bad as you think’ in the same BBC Ideas series. MDMD agree with her that death needs to be talked about more and no longer be treated as a taboo subject. Mannix describes a peaceful, natural death. For those where this sort of death comes quickly, without a large amount of trauma, distress and loss of dignity leading up to it, Warburton’s Good Death Centres are not necessary. However, Mannix doesn’t give information about the likelihood of various causes of death, and of having the sort of good death she describes. We know, for example that in England and Wales dementia is now the leading cause of death, and that many more people die with it than of it. People who have witnessed people dying with or of dementia, often say that they would not wish to die that way themselves. Other causes of death are discussed here.

MDMD suggest that the truly comforting thought is to have both options well funded and available: excellent palliative care, with the safeguarded option of a medically assisted death, if this is necessary for the patient to have what they consider to be a good death, in their particular circumstances.