TERRY PRONE: Unlike most election issues, this one is a matter of life and death

Kate Tobin suffers from MS and wants the right to die when her suffering becomes too great. Picture: Patrick Browne

I have one issue. My right to die at a time of my own choosing in company of my own choosing, writes Terry Prone.

THIS weekend saw a complete disjunction between what media and the body politic were worked up about and what real people were concentrated on.

Media and the body politic were horrified at the prospect — nay, at the very possibility of a general election, and heartily projected that horror onto the wider public.

The wider public wasn’t the smallest bit fearful of having a general election arrive in the next few weeks.

The wider public was way too busy buying the new Lego Skelligs set or a donkey with wheels for one of the toddlers, and, in many cases, looking forward to spending money at Christmas for the first time in perhaps 10 years without that spend being joined at the hip to a panic attack.

General election? Sure, grand. Amazon and the post office will be delivering things anyway, so what harm if a canvasser or two turns up?

Many politicians, out at the weekend, were slightly surprised to find, that outside the political/media bubble, most of the citizens didn’t care that much, one way or the other.

Even though it may not happen, because the thought of campaigning up to December 19 and perhaps going into the Christmas season minus your job puts the heart crossways in public representatives, I nonetheless, just this once, will positively welcome canvassers, no matter what party they belong to.

I will bring them in, sit them down, accept their literature, give them coffee, and listen to the predictable question about what I see as a current issue needing to be addressed.

“I have one issue only,” I will tell them. “That issue is my right to die at a time of my own choosing in company of my own choosing.

“You promise me you will bring in legislation or support a private members’ bill on this issue — you get my vote. You guarantee this issue will be added to your party’s manifesto, ditto.”

I will have to explain to them that suicide prevention is a hugely important obligation on all of us, when it comes to creating a world where young people do not find themselves tipped by depression, drink, or some other factor into an attempt to quit the world, that they might never make if the world, or their part of it, took care of them.

Picking your own time and place to die, on the other hand, is an issue for older people and for those afflicted with disabling and ultimately terminal illnesses such as motor neurone disease.

But, the candidate will say to me, you don’t suffer from that disease. This is true. I do not suffer from any disabling and ultimately terminal disease at the moment.

I am fortunate that way. I am fortunate, also, in that I have the medications, saved over the years, with which to take my own life were I to choose to do so.

If I were to do so, that would be pretty much my own business, although — and this is the injustice needing to be righted — anybody in this situation cannot ask their most beloved friends or relatives to be with them when they die, even to hold their hand, because to do so would be to endanger the friend or relative to (at best) publicity about their passive presence at a self-chosen death, or (at worst) legal action because of the perception that in some way they assisted a suicide. In other words, if you can take your life unassisted, you can take it in lonely isolation.

Now, let’s be clear. I do not intend to kill myself in the immediate future. I may never do it. What bothers me is that if I wait until dementia begins, or I suffer a stroke or a serious fall, I may lose the right completely, because I would need help to reach and consume medication, and the law puts that help out of my reach, as it put it out of the reach of Marie Fleming, who, when she knew she was going to die a difficult death, sought legal sanction for assisted suicide.

She was never, according to her partner Tom Curran, suicidal. She simply wanted to be in control of her living and dying, not cede control to MS.

Kate Tobin suffers from the same illness and wants the right to die when her suffering becomes too great. The problem is that the suffering becoming too great and the loss of the capacity to take your own life can coincide, so that she will need assistance.

She’s told her truth compellingly on an RTÉ documentary and this paper followed it up with a detailed story. And then? It fell out of media and political attention.

It is always the same. The individual who raises the issue gets some media attention, particularly when they have taken legal action. Everybody says how brave they are (you have to be dreadfully ill and hampered by that illness to raise the issue at all). And then it dies and is ignored as if it never happened.

No politician of courage steps up and says: “I will vindicate the rights of this individual.” No politician wants to address the fact that the cases raised so far, individual though each has been, nevertheless mirror the reality that will face huge numbers within the demographic bulge of people now in their late 50s and early 60s.

To give him his due, John Halligan, before he went into Government, did put down a private members’ bill which would begin to address this injustice.

Interestingly, although he couldn’t push a private members’ bill when in Government, he doesn’t seem to have pushed his Independent Alliance to look favourably on changing the law.

Perhaps the problem is that this is an old person’s issue, and the only electoral issues older people are assumed to care about relate to medical cards, fuel allowances, and not having to pay for their television.

But perhaps the reason is that the silence of older people about what they want is an unsurprising silence, given that most of those over 60 were brought up in an Ireland where the thinking was always shaped by the Church.

So we know, those of us over 60, that if we indicate the smallest, the most long-term, the most conditional desire to take our own lives, that we will be drowned in sympathy and hosed with kind advice, starting with getting anti-depressants from the GP. We may be regarded as competent, clever, and professional (if still working), but the moment we indicate a desire at some future point to be in control of our own dying, all that’s replaced by for-your-own-good deafness.

So if we have an election, and you’re given to for-your-own- goodery on this issue, Politician, pass by.

I have one issue. My right to die at a time of my own choosing in company of my own choosing

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