No I’m not thinking of the ingenious one in Pirates of Penzance but of one in the medical culture in the UK.
The starting point for my thoughts was Sir Terry Pratchett’s film for the BBC on assisted suicide which, I have to admit, I didn’t watch. I understand both sides of the argument and have made no attempt to come down on one side or the other. I understand why someone whose body is dying might want to finish their life before it become unbearable and I also understand the worries of disability groups, and others, that it might lead to the elderly and disabled being pushed towards taking their lives.
It was at this point that the paradox hit me. Our health service seems committed to keeping people alive at all costs and yet abortion is freely available.
When my father was dying the hospital called me to be with him but then took him down for a scan to see if they could find out what was happening. It was pointless as he was fighting so hard to breathe that he couldn’t keep still enough for them to get a clear scan and they didn’t find out anything that they didn’t already know; his heart was giving out and he was dying. In one way I am grateful that they did everything they could but another part of me wonders whether it wouldn’t have been more dignified to have just let him die and to not have confused him by wheeling him around the hospital.
I’m old enough to remember when abortion was legalised in the UK and so I remember that there were assurances at the time that this would not lead to abortion on demand but only on medical need. No matter how well intentioned those assurances were I doubt if anyone would seriously argue that we haven’t ended up with exactly that even if it is never called that by name.
This is where we hit the paradox; if you are old and dying the health professionals will do everything they can to keep you alive but if you are so young that you haven’t been born they see no problem in not letting you live.
This is not an attempt to argue the case for or against either assisted suicide or abortion but just pointing out how inconsistent we can all be when we compartmentalise our lives.