This story, in the iPaper today, is awful.
A mother who watched on helplessly as onlookers told her daughter to “jump” as she threatened to leap from a multi-storey car park said she has seen “the worst of humanity.”
She said: “I saw people sitting in the gutter for three hours watching with their children.”
After being alerted to the situation by a friend, her mum raced to the scene – and promptly had a panic attack. She was given a seat behind the police cordon by officers, out of sight of her daughter – who told a specialist negotiator she didn’t want to see her family – but not out of earshot of the crowd.
“As soon as people realised there was someone on the roof, they were gathering in groups,” she said. “She was up there for five hours and throughout there were people shouting ‘jump’ at her. And she heard it.
“Even she said later, ‘What did they hope to see? Did they really want to see me splattered on the pavement?’
“Because I was behind the cordon, and had been given a chair and coffee, people had realised I was her mum. “Quite a lot approached me and asked why she was up there and what she was doing. “One said, ‘Stupid cow – why doesn’t she just jump?’”
It’s shocking. It is indeed the worst of humanity.
But if that is, then so is this:
– Student comments on a post on the New York Times Learning Network blog. The students commenting are as young as 14.
It is certainly true that the hospice movement offers outstandingly good terminal care, and that modern medicines greatly enhance their ability to provide it. But the existence of palliative care is not to the point for Mrs Pretty. She wishes to die when she is still alert, and able to say goodbye to her family. She does not want to endure the utter helplessness and distress of the last stages of her illnesses, whatever is available in the way of tranquillisers and reassurance. She might be paralysed and wheelchair-bound, but she is still a person with a mind of her own; and she wishes to make choices about her own affairs, above all to say when, where and how she will leave the life which, for all the happiness it has brought in personal terms, is drawing to an end so cruelly. Natural justice says that this is her right; and so does the Convention on Human Rights. All she asks is that her rights be respected.
The emotive difference is in the tone of the comments. Where these three examples were calm and rational and expressed in the abstract, and were seeking a peaceful, sanitised death not a spectacle, the sentiment is the same – if s/he wants to die, s/he should do it. Jump!
If you’re shocked at one you have to consider why you’re not shocked at the other.
I’ve commented before that we seem to hold some weird distinction between mental anguish and the physical variety. That is apparently changing too, however – this article in The Economist supports, with caution, assisted dying for the mentally ill, despite its own assertion that no one wants it:
The hardest question is whether doctor-assisted dying should be available for those in mental anguish. No one wants to make suicide easier for the depressed: many will recover and enjoy life again. But mental pain is as real as physical pain, even though it is harder for onlookers to gauge. And even among the terminally ill, the suffering that causes some to seek a quicker death may not be physical. Doctor-assisted death on grounds of mental suffering should therefore be allowed. [Emphasis mine]
The inexorable logic of a morality that judges right and wrong on instinct with no basis for understanding why it chooses A over B, leads a society to these kinds of conflicting situations, where an organisation can advocate for an outcome it says no one wants; where encouraging a person to jump from a roof is abhorrent, but praising the courage of someone who seeks her own death by medical means is the purview of our elected MPs; where we think about whether to help someone live or die based on how we would treat a suffering cat.
What brave new world is this?