a letter to the editor.

Dear sir

Your article yesterday on the subject of euthanasia was, if I may be so bold, uninformed. Indeed, it would not be too strong to label it complete balderdash. Your reporter had interviewed a number of elderly persons, and some younger people with life-threatening illnesses, who exhibited an admirable zest for life in very trying health circumstances. However, allow me to observe that this subject is not one where one size fits all. The variety of human suffering does not fit the modern social policy penchant for categorisation.

If I may, I would like to illustrate from my own experience, which, I might point out, is representative of the experience of many others. I make this claim based on my observations in the nursing home in which my beloved wife Veronica is presently incarcerated, and has been for years. Veronica is of sound mind, and what a mind it is – she was an emeritus professor of anthropology and sociology at the University of Oxford for the last twenty years of her illustrious career. She is now 89 years of age and suffers a number of debilitating physical afflictions which her doctors have cleverly kept under some semblance of control with a series of miraculous technological interventions. Yes, they have staved off Veronica’s death – but just barely. She requires substantial quantities of “wonder drugs” to merely endure the interventions thrust upon her, and even with those drugs, she appears to be still in considerable pain most of the time. She can barely communicate. She sleeps only about three hours each night.

I submit, sir, that this treatment is a cruel and inhumane punishment for a woman who has lived a blameless life. I question the doctors’ application of their Hippocratic Oath in this instance. I speculate that their actions are driven either by a twisted and misguided veneration of life per se; or by considerations of their insurance provider. These speculations assume, of course, that the doctors spend even a modicum of their busy hours considering Veronica’s position. This seems doubtful at times.

Before she descended into her present helpless state, Veronica and I – I am older than her, at 92 – discussed, as I believe most rational adults of our years do, the question of what to do should such a ghastly end encroach. It was not difficult for us to agree to assist each other to a speedy, graceful, peaceful and dignified end. At the time, we did not know what this might entail, or which of us would be called upon to act. We did understand that any such actions would be viewed very seriously by the law and our community (and, as it turns out, by your editorial board).

Nevertheless, I am a man of honour and I know my duty when I see it. After sending this letter, I will be on my way to Veronica’s bedside, where I will disconnect her from all of the “life-giving” machines to which she is attached, and hold her hand until the end. I will play Bach on the CD player for her.

You may send the police to the Sleepy Valley Nursing Home on Elm Street.


Bernard Smith.

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