Words fail me quite often, which is odd, in a way, for someone whose whole life is bound up in service of the Word and, indeed, words. Yesterday several events occurred which placed great strain on my ability to think and articulate. Those of you who have followed Tony Nicklinson’s efforts to ensure that anyone helping him to die should not be liable to prosecution must have spent a few minutes yesterday wondering what he felt like when the decision went against him. How does one respond? How can one respond? There is a double obligation: to uphold the truth and to show compassion and care. Sometimes, one just feels helpless, as I admit I did. The question is painful because it concerns a person with thoughts and feelings, not an abstraction.
I believe that the decision not to allow Mr Nicklinson’s suit was the right one, for legal as well as moral reasons (it would change the law on murder for a start, allowing a right to kill rather than a right to die), but that does nothing to answer the further important question which is how we, as a society and as individuals, help/support/comfort him and those who find themselves in a similar situation.
Many years ago I became involved in the Life movement. I did so because the organization was very clear that opposition to abortion had to be accompanied by an effort to provide a real alternative. As a result, I spent much of my time raising money for, or doing practical tasks for, the ‘safe houses’ which sheltered those who might otherwise have had abortions. It would be an invasion of the Nicklinsons’ privacy to suggest anything along the same lines in his case, but those of us who believe that we do not have the right to take our own life, or to ask another to end it for us, cannot simply say, the decision was the right one, and turn to another topic. There will be more attempts to change the law. They must be resisted, but at the same time we must also address the question Tony Nicklinson has posed about the suffering he endures. The Church does not demand that we use extraordinary means to preserve life, but who is to make the decision about what constitutes extraordinary means, how are we to respond when someone says his life has become unbearable? I am sure I am not alone when I say that I shall be thinking and praying about this for days to come.