Hannah Jones suffers from leukemia and cardio myopathy (a disease of the heart muscle) and has been shuttling in and out of hospital for most of her short life. She has refused a heart transplant, saying that it might not work and even if it did work it would be followed by constant medication. She simply wants to be allowed to die at home surrounded by her family, not have to be cooped up in yet another hospital ward. This statement sounds reasonable if we were talking about a terminally ill elderly patient, yet crucially, this is a 13-year-old girl. Is she emotionally capable of making this momentous decision?
I do not believe that she is. Although she may be sick of constantly being in hospital, I feel she should not give up her chance of life. Her parents have been completely behind her in her decision, and as much as they want to support their daughters right over her life, I believe that they should be encouraging her to consider the transplant. It seems ludicrous that a girl, just into her teens, could possibly be ready to make the decision to die; the inevitable outcome if she does not go through with the transplant.
This was obviously what the hospital treating Hannah thought, when they applied for a court order in February to force the transplant. The case was subsequently dropped, as Hannah was interviewed by a child protection officer and appeared to have made a definite decision against having the transplant. I think that the hospital should not have simply dropped the case. On the other hand to force Hannah to have the transplant against her wishes would have been morally wrong.
A related case has hit the headlines recently, that of Debbie Purdy, 45. She has primary progressive MS and wanted the right to die at a Swiss clinic, accompanied by her husband, with the assurance that upon his return to the UK he would not be prosecuted. Under British law, assisting in a suicide is punishable by up to 14 years in prison. She lost her high court case, after receiving no assurance that her husband would not be prosecuted. She is said to still be considering travelling to Switzerland to end her life at the Dignitas clinic, where she would be given a lethal dose of barbiturates. The high court ruled that “the offence of assisted suicide is very widely drawn – only Parliament can change it”. So ultimately, should assisted suicide be legalised in the UK? For terminally ill patients, who are never going to live full lives, yes, I believe it should. The case of Daniel James, a 23 year old who travelled to Switzerland to end his life in September, is a prime example. He had been involved in a rugby accident, dislocating his spine, which resulted in him being paralysed from the chest down. He had been set for a promising professional rugby career, and after the accident felt as if his life was not worth living. Dan was studying at Loughborough University, when he sustained his injury; to go from living a carefree, active life to needing constant round-the-clock care would certainly have been a horrendous prospect. He would not only never play the game he loved again, but he would never walk again. In this case I strongly believe that his parents who were completely behind him in his decision, were completely in the right and should not have been under investigation by the police, as they found themselves to be on their return to the UK. They simply wanted what was best for their son, as is any parents’ wish. Upon first reading, this case seems shocking because Dan was so young at only 23. Yet when the circumstances that led to his death are examined, the tragic outcome no longer seems wrong but crucially right for him. There are those who will argue that it is wrong to end such a young life, but Dan was mature enough to make the decision, and end his ‘second-class existence’ as his mother was quoted as terming his life.
These cases, although very different, prompt us to ask the question: is the individual in a position to make the momentous decision to die? In Hannah’s complex case, there is no morally ‘right’ answer, yet in Debbie and in Dan’s case I think that their quality of life was never going to improve, and in Debbie’s case only deteriorate in time. Therefore they should be able to wield some sort of control over lives that their injuries or illnesses have cruelly taken away from them.
By Ashley Wallis