Tuesday 18 September 2018

Ending it

The Irish State has been decidedly and officiously pro-life in a number of cases both at the beginning and ending of the sojourn in this vale of tears. At least this year in May we filletted the protection of the unborn out of the Constitution in the Referendum, despite the weight of the patriarchy being behind retention. Constitutional protection is a blunt instrument that fills the pockets of lawyers and prevents reasonable choices in unforeseen cases. We are still waiting to legislation to determine the circumstances in which a pregnancy may be terminated. My take is that it is invidious for the state to insist that women will carry every pregnancy to term unless and until the state fully indemnifies its citizens for the cost [financial, social, emotional] of bringing up baby. Most of us manage to raise kids without extra help [although thanks for all the Children's Allowance [€140/child/mo/] but for those who struggle there is little enough help and that is grudgingly given.

At the other end of life, Susan Lyall has a recent heart-warming essay in the NYT about failing to terminate her mother with barbiturates, despite a pact to do so; but succeeding in reading the old lady to death with Charlotte's Web.

On a related story, Gail O'Rorke was back in the news because a documentary was aired about her helping to Off her pal Bernadette Forde in 2015. Ms Forde was in an advanced stage of MS and wanted to go to Dignitas the death-factory in Switzerland. Being barely able to move, she asked O'Rorke to make the arrangements with a travel agent. The agent grassed them up to the Gardai who prevented them from travelling - although the right to travel is actually legal. Well it is explicitly legal at the other end of the spectrum as The 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1992 added "This subsection shall not limit freedom to travel between the State and another state." to the, just repealed,Article 40.3.3. which gave the unborn equal rights with the carrier. Having been thwarted in the expensive end game in Switzerland, [Exit by Dignitas costs about £10,000] O'Rorke visited Western Union to pay for a quantity [~€400 - bargain] of barbiturates ordered by Forde from Mexico, which she later used to finish herself off.

A long while after Forde had avoided a long undignified dependency in a nursing home and contrived to die at home, O'Rorke was brought in for questioning by the Gardai . . . several times and eventually prosecuted under the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993, which decriminalised suicide but made it a crime for another to assist in the process. Three threads were tangled up in the prosecution a) the debacle at the travel agent b) ordering the barbiturates and c) helping Forde with planning her funeral. The fact that O'Rorke was a beneficiary of Forde's will muddied the minds of the Gardai a bit. After a legal wrangle with the Judge, the ordering and planning crimes were struck out and the prosecution relied on the abortive assisted travel evidence. The jury eventually (7 hours!) acquitted O'Rorke of the crime and she was able, after nearly four years of being ragged around by the legal system, to walk free and pick up the pieces of her life. O'Rorke is still sure that she did the right thing by her pal.

In 2014 I wrote about Marie Fleming and her efforts to involve herself a test-case for assisted suicide for the lucid but physically infirm. The every life is sacred view is widely and deeply embedded in the social mores and law in Ireland. At least part of the underlying argument is about the thin end of the wedge: if anyone is allowed to end their own life with the help of others or if anyone decides that putting their beloved out of their misery is the kindest option . . . then all kinds of people will get offed because they are merely inconvenient, or exhausting, or smelly. And we probably all agree that it's wrong to terminate your long-suffering mother because she's occupying a big house which is near the golf-course and convenient to the shops. Nevertheless, I've visited enough elderly female relatives in a wide variety of nursing homes and conclude that existence in such a place is really only fun for the home's manager and shareholders.

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