Thursday, June 16, 2011

Of Lifestyle Death And Women Pursuit Lifestyle Living

Allison Pearson: Death Should Not Be As Easy As Going To The Dentist
Allison Pearson on the unbearably moving case of terminally ill Peter Smedley, who chose to visit Dignitas; and why women love nothing more than a bit of benevolent sexism.
'A gentle good humour and stuff upper lip': Peter and Christine Smedley.  
'A gentle good humour and stuff upper lip': Peter and Christine Smedley.

Two stories of the week.
The philanthropist Bill Gates passed round the hat and collected $4.3 billion for vaccinations which can eradicate simple diseases in the developing world.
Nine million children who would have died unnecessarily may soon have the right to live.
Meanwhile, in Switzerland, Sir Terry Pratchett, the best-selling novelist, was leading a campaign for another mortal right.

“Peter Lawrence Smedley, are you sure you want to drink this medicament with which you will sleep and die?”

“Yes, I’m quite sure.”

It sounded like a marriage, but it was actually a new rite of passage for humanity.
The death ceremony.
Peter, a charming retired hotelier, was pledging himself to Hades.

With the admin taken care of, Erika, the kindly Swiss death assistant, passed the poison cup to the 71-year-old motor-neurone disease sufferer.
He drank it down and, minutes later, there was a terrible, hoarse rasping sound.
The dying man asked for water.
The death assistant shook her head and hushed him.
We could no longer see Mr Smedley’s face because the camera had tactfully looked away and focused on Sir Terry instead, but Peter’s last words were as clear as they were unbearable:
“My wife’s very good at putting me to sleep just by rubbing my hands. Be strong, my darling.”

This assisted suicide, yours for £10,000 from Dignitas in Zurich, inclusive of ashes, was at the centre of Sir Terry Pratchett’s controversial BBC2 documentary, Choosing to Die.
It was very hard to watch without crying.
Even Sir Terry, the most vocal champion of the right to pencil your own extinction in the diary as if death were a dental appointment, snuffled away a few tears.
Most piercing of all was the way Mr Smedley and his wife Christine, immaculate in pearls, maintained a gentle good humour and stiff upper lip on what was the last day of their 34-year marriage.

“This has been a happy event,” announced Sir Terry afterwards.
“We’ve seen a man die peacefully, more or less in the arms of his wife. When we think of all the ways people can die, that would count as a result.”

I wouldn’t call it a result.
Sad and troubling, most definitely, with shades of Nazi eugenics and a fearful banality – the Dignitas clinic sits on a rumbling industrial estate, which lends a production-line air to one of life’s great mysteries.
Instead of Dylan Thomas urging us to rage against the dying of the light, Peter and Christine were offered coffee and a chocolate.
Milk or plain?
To be or not to be?
Welcome to the Travelodge of doom.

The BBC received 900 complaints about Choosing to Die.
Barely a murmur when you consider that 700 irate viewers rang in to protest that extended motor racing was allowed to bump off Antiques Roadshow.
Anti-euthanasia campaigners said the Pratchett documentary painted an idealised picture of assisted death rather than contributing to an honest debate.
That isn’t so.
It was a deeply thoughtful and moving programme orchestrated by a 63-year-old word wizard under the curse of Alzheimer’s.
Sir Terry is angry that terminally ill Britons, like himself, have to go to Switzerland to be put out of their misery. He fancies dying on his own sunlit lawn, drinking the fatal draught while listening to Thomas Tallis.

It’s a seductive picture, isn’t it?
As seductive as those TV commercials for Quietus, the over-the-counter suicide kit in Children of Men.
Set in the UK in 2027, P D James’s dystopic novel imagines a time when adults are encouraged to kill themselves with a product which soothingly offers to take the choice out of your hands.
You can be sure, dear reader, that when the state-sanctioned putting down of the sick, the disabled and the elderly comes, it won’t look like a factory run by Joseph Goebbels.
It will look like a lifestyle choice.
Make that a deathstyle choice.

That’s why, although Sir Terry, the lovely Smedleys and anyone in fear of a prolonged, painful death have my deepest sympathy, I feel we have to be vigilant and hold the line.
Imagine a clapped-out NHS, which can barely transplant the right kidney, being put in charge of legalised killing.
And if the private sector were involved, how soon before they’d be offering three for two?

You think I’m joking?
The single most shocking fact in Choosing to Die was that 21 per cent of the clients that Dignitas has put to sleep did not have progressive or terminal illnesses, but suffered from a “weariness of life”.
Dear God, if we adopt that criterion, every mum on the Friday afternoon of half-term would be queuing up for a merciful beaker of Paraquat.

While thousands of very sick people register for Dignitas, in the end most choose not to use it.
Knowing you can go quickly and painlessly if you have to seems to provide the strength to stay and see it through.
Let’s be honest, what really scares us is the thought of dying alone in some rank “care” home or being left on a hospital trolley, our shrunken self-respect barely covered by a blue paper gown.
Before we introduce a right to die, how about supporting the right to live our final days without shame?

The British people have not, overnight, become crazed converts to euthanasia, it’s just that too often the alternative is so cruel and awful.
Eighty per cent of us say we want to pass away in our own beds surrounded by family.
Yet the dire state of half of primary care trusts means that 60 per cent end up dying in hospital, where you have to plead for a glass of water.

Terry Pratchett admitted to Mick, an ebullient taxi driver whose motor-neurone disease is being managed by a terrific hospice, that Lady Pratchett does not agree with him on assisted dying.

“Maybe she wants to take care of you?” said Mick’s own wife pointedly.

“She does,” said Sir Terry sadly.

And what’s wrong with that?
Suffering can be our greatest trial but also, for the sufferer and for those who care for them, one of our greatest opportunities for love.
As Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali says:
“Again and again, people have told me how much they have learned about themselves and others at this time in their lives.”

I’m sure he’s right, and all my humane instincts recoil from the cold indignity of Dignitas.
And yet, at the back of my mind, a small voice keeps saying:
“If I had Alzheimer’s and knew that my self was about to vanish, like sand through a sieve, would I want the rest of me to go on?”


You have to admit these are baffling times for blokes.
Thousands of angry young women marched through London wearing bras, suspenders and skirts shorter than a text message on something called a SlutWalk.
I suppose those wearing black PVC corsets are what you might call Basque Separatists.
Any males who ogled, gawped, fell off their bikes, crashed the car or even got lightly steamed-up specs were guilty of judging a female’s availability by her appearance.
No means No, even when a woman’s dressed like a prostitute saying Yes.
Got that?

Meanwhile, another protest by women was going on outside the tragically retrograde new Playboy Club. These females were objecting to the club’s 50 bunny girls being tricked out with tails and ears for the delectation of customers.
“Is the bunny an empowering role for the modern girl or a frivolous sexist plaything?” asked one commentator.
Hmm, give me till the end of this sentence to think about that.
Emmeline Pankhurst and the girls might be a bit surprised to learn they chained themselves to railings so that Hayley from Dunbarton could celebrate her empowerment by sticking a powder puff on her arse.

As if all this wasn’t confusing enough, the Society for the Psychology of Women in Washington DC has just decreed that chivalry is actually “benevolent sexism”.
Researchers warn that there are many acts of unnoticed sexism taking place every day.
They have drawn up a helpful list so we can all be on our guard: a man offering to help his wife with heavy shopping, man calling a group of men and women “guys” and offering to do the driving on long-distance journeys.
Even men who shower their woman with “unwanted affection” or say they cannot live without her could also be sexist.
Thank goodness there’s no danger of that kind of thing happening in my house!

It would take a book to unpick this cat’s cradle of contradictions, but let me say two things.
First, north America, where the SlutWalks originated, has the most atrocious maternity leave in the Western world.
Women quit work practically on the day they give birth and are expected to be back in weeks.
If young women are going to take to the streets, then let them fight for the right to have decent time with their babies, not to get their boobs out.

Second, I hereby declare myself the founding member of Women For Benevolent Sexism.
Any gents who want to help me with a suitcase, hold a door open or smile eagerly and say,
“That’s my pleasure, young lady,” please go ahead.

Source: The Telegraph - Wednesday, June 15, 2011


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