A duty to die

Sarah Wootton wrote a piece in the Guardian, a few days ago,  considering Baroness Warnock’s comments in the Church of Scotland’s magazine, Life and Work, in which she stated that dementia suffers may have ‘a duty to die’.

Uproar followed as it is a headline which is easy to write –  the piece in the Guardian follows on with  a wider discussion about euthanasia in general. Instinctively, euthanasia as a general concept sits uneasily with me. While respecting the autonomy of the individual, I find it hard to equate with a possible ‘easy’ solution being taken. I find the issue of non-treatment and palliative care much easier than an active decision to choose death but that’s not really my point for this post.

It is more the issue of dementia being raised as a possible reason to advocate euthanasia. The Telegraph reports further on Baroness Warnock’s comments.

Lady Warnock said: “If you’re demented, you’re wasting people’s lives – your family’s lives – and you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service.

“I’m absolutely, fully in agreement with the argument that if pain is insufferable, then someone should be given help to die, but I feel there’s a wider argument that if somebody absolutely, desperately wants to die because they’re a burden to their family, or the state, then I think they too should be allowed to die.

“Actually I’ve just written an article called ‘A Duty to Die?’ for a Norwegian periodical. I wrote it really suggesting that there’s nothing wrong with feeling you ought to do so for the sake of others as well as yourself.”


I suppose there are many similar parallels that can be drawn with other conditions that might ‘waste people’s lives’ – when family members care for a loved one, I’m not sure it really is a ‘waste’. I see a lot of the time, effort and money for that matter that is needed to support particular people at particular times but links in with the duty of care rather than a personal responsibility of that individual or that family or the state to make the decision about what is justified and what is unjustified cost.

Baroness Warnock has, I believe, raised this issue to raise wider debate about euthanasia. She is no fool. I have difficulties with the position on so many levels but mostly because I come from a position where I can see a lot of the pain caused immediately following a diagnosis of dementia through to the last stages of the disease.

There is also a niggling feeling that the opportunity for less than caring family or friends could influence someone’s decision and choice. I have seen many a Power of Attorney and Enduring/Lasting Power of Attorney that had been made in circumstances where capacity had already been lost and were therefore challenged subsequently when we were less than sure of the validity and intent of the Attorney in question. With Euthanasia there isn’t much room to appeal.

The awareness of what is happening can be cruel but the progression of the illness do not always cause pain to the individual who has the diagnosis. Sometimes it does and it can be a process that causes immense suffering, without doubt, but life and death are so rarely issues in which much choice exists.

It is easy now to say that if I were to lose my faculties I would rather die but I don’t believe it is ever a situation that can be foreseen. I honestly don’t know how I would feel were I to be in that situation. Different people respond and react in different ways.

Of course, situations and circumstances can be incredibly difficult for the family members, carers and yes, there is a huge cost to society, but each of us has the means to make a contribution to society as a whole.

Someone in the comments section of the Guardian mentioned that you can’t say what should or shouldn’t happen unless you have experienced caring for someone with dementia yourself and have seen what it does. I haven’t been in that situation myself. I have seen others do it many times. I think that sometimes life doesn’t offer us easy options. And death can’t really be seen as a solution.

There is still a family, friends, society, that needs to live with that ‘solution’ and that can create more problems in itself.

7 thoughts on “A duty to die

  1. I have been in the situation of caring for a loved one with dementia – it was hell for her and me but I tell you this, she was never ever a burden to me and if I had a purely selfish view then she would be here still, yes because I loved her dearly and “true” characteristics remain when even the most basic cognitive function is impaired and also because she had it in the bank, I owed her all I did for her a million times over for the love she had given me.
    I read that article too and it made me swear out loud – How bloody DARE she? I abhor the idea that people who are an inconvenience should be got rid of, where does it stop? handicapped babies? Enduring illness sufferers? I have no doubt, none at all, that what the good Baroness meant was – they are a drain on resources, they cost too much both on their own behalf and in stopping their carers working and it would be a damn sight cheaper for the Health Service to off them. Just for the record, this is how I feel about legislated euthanasia in general – as you say, when fit and healthy we all say “I wouldn’t want to live if I was like that” but I believe no person can judge until they are there, I have seen countless people for whom I would say quality of life was almiost wholly absent and yet they feel life is still sweet. I think it is such a dangerous road – relatives with thier eye on the inheritance, Healtgh Services looking to save money – there are just too many temptations in legalised euthanasia and by definition someone with dementia is unlikely to have capacity, so how can they be said to have capacity to make such an irreversible decision?

  2. Thanks for that, Caroline. While I haven’t been in that position personally, it’s pretty much exactly my feelings on things. As I wrote above, I am very uncomfortable with euthanasia for exactly the reasons you state. I don’t think we can say in advance how we might feel in a given situation.

  3. Below is a series of posts from a Blog written by six undercover criminologist in Nottingham, ‘Bent Society’.

    The debate on ‘Mercy Killing or the Right to Die’ is foregrounded well in the example below of a suicidal young man goaded by a crowd to jump (which he did)in a culture which from top to bottom seems to be setting the tone for a much more aggressive society. Baroness Warnock is not living in this aggressive, socially divided society and doesn’t realise how lliterally her mataphoricising can be used to steamroller any concept of care into a very utilitarian practice which could eventually lead to a form of social genocide. The story is below and quoted from Bent Society and Bent Society copied comments from the Metro (who originally ran the story) Let me know what you think!

    In Derby – the city next to Nottingham – last Saturday a young man stood on the edge of a multistory car park roof and contemplated committing suicide. Shaun Dykes felt desperate in the way that 17 year old people sometimes do – unable to know from the experience that comes with age that his troubles would not seem so devastating in a few days or weeks or months time. Shaun was desperate and needed talking-down very carefully by caring police officers.

    “Shaun Dykes, 17, fell from the car-park in Derby city-centre after police negotiators had spent three hours trying to talk him down.As he threatened to leap several hundred people gathered outside the busy Westfield Centre – some shouting at him to kill himself.

    As the drama unfolded on the city’s most popular shopping street, others allegedly taunted him by yelling: “How far can you bounce?”

    The yobs in the mob who were unable to empathise with the young victim’s plight – who felt no need to curb their heartless dehumanising jibes in the presence of other citizens or police, who the police say interfered with their abilities to talk the young man down – why did they do it?

  4. Metro Reader’s views (taken directly from the Metro’s site in response to the article published by the Metro)

    38 METRO readers have commented on this story so far ON THE METRO SITE:

    Several points:1) If he’d been 100% committed to taking his own life he wouldn’t have waited around up there for 3 hours before jumping – he would have jumped straight away.2) Depression is an illness, and people suffering from it don’t think logically or rationally.3) It’s probable that the police could have talked him down safely had it not been for those shouting at him to jump.

    As someone who has been on the receiving end of bullying by a group of people – and yes, I would consider this to be bullying – when you have a group of people insulting you, telling you that you are worthless, and telling you that they want you to kill yourself, it makes you feel absolutely worthless, like life isn’t worth living.In my opinion, this despicable behaviour was probably the final straw – and those who were shouting at him to jump bear a significant responsibility for the death of this child.

    – A Mark, Birmingham UK

    Nobody pushed him! People are in control of their own lives, I’m so sick of reading stories where “society” as a whole is blamed for everything as if people make no decisions themselves.

    – Claire, Newcastle

    I think this is one of the saddest pictures I’ve seen in a long time. Poor kid, the look on his face is so desperate.

    Aside from the ‘story’ itself, I think it’s distasteful in the extreme to publish this picture.

    – Chrissie, Derby, UK

    A Mark is right. Throw the book at these twisted bitter sadists. They are partly responsible and would be an interesting experiment to see if they contemplated suicide faced with 14 yrs inside.

    – Tom, London

    I feel as though comments such as Andreas’ lack empathy, if you’re teetering on the edge because you feel the society you live in is hateful and unkind, I think that kind of taunting really doesn’t help.I totally agree with Claire, the parents are to blame for such idiotic behaviour, I truly believe that if you need a license to drive a car, you should have license to have a kid.

    – Laurie, London

    J from London. Yes, I have felt depression and yes I have wanted to commit suicide, but I thought about my family and stopped myself from doing something drastic. I think this boy must have made up his mind long before he got up on the car park. So saying that have we ever felt depressed is just an insult to everyone, has everyone has suffered from it some point in their lives.
    – Mr Incredible, W’ton

    I wish I’d been there, because I would have told those scum what I think of them. I hope someone finds out who they are and puts their faces all over the papers and Internet. Bloody scum of the earth.If someone is feeling suicidal please talk to someone.

    .- Susan, somerset

    To those who say: he made his own choice, I have this to say – have you ever suffered from Depression? Well I and other acquaintances have. Furthermore I am a health care practitioner. As such I can tell you this: Depression is as much an actual illness as cancer or bronchitis – you cannot control it! And you often have very little control over what you think and feel. If you genuinely believe that you can just snap outa it, then you are very ill informed and ignorant of what a mental illness actually is.Someone with depression cannot make reasonable decisions anymore than someone with prostate cancer can force themselves to pee faster. Get some education, you ignorant buffoons, and have some compassion for those who are not blessed with as good health (mental and physical) than yourselves.As for those cruel ***holes that shouted “jump!” – what goes around always comes around.My sincere condolences to the family.

    – J, London

    This is the standard understanding of mental health in this country. Try the NHS for even more absurdity with it…

    – S, Ox
    This is a sad story, some of the reactions to it also show a lack of compassion.Just make sure you do your bit from now on if you disagree with the bullies, show some compassion for their victims, try not to make others a victim of your behaviour. You can’t change others, but you can change yourself and by trying to do what is right you can contribute to making the world the better place you want it to be. Not everyone will be interested and will rely on others to make the first move.

    -Steve, London, UK

    They should be charged with incitement and obstructing the police, what if it was a hostage situation and they shouted shoot him or stab him its no different in the eyes of the law, it is an offence to incite someone to hurt themselves or others and to obstruct the police in their duty to protect people from harm.

    – Mark, Leeds

    i think if I was about to jump and a load of people were egging you on, you would jump. How unloved that boy must have felt. These people should be ashamed of themselves.

    – Jenni – 21 – No Kids (And A Decent Person), bford

    Shouting at someone to jump for me is as bad as pushing them – surely these people were arrested on murder or at least manslaughter charges??This sort of story really makes me hate this country!If this is “Modern Britain” – then I’m moving abroad…

    – Ryan Swann, Bath, UK
    Suidice Act 19612 Criminal liability for complicity in another’s suicide(1)A person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another, or an attempt by another to commit suicide, shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.

    – A Mark, Birmingham, UK

    How disgusting that these sick individuals were allowed to stand there and goad this boy man to jump. Why was they not told to leave the street by the police? Obviously the police cannot do anything to these people, but at the time, surely they have the authority to get them to leave? I’m saddened to say this kind of behaviour doesn’t shock me anymore.Condolences to Shaun’s family

    – Katy, London, England

    Prosecuted for what, no one forced him to jump.In fact suicide shouldn’t even be illegal, it’s your life and if you’re fed up of it then it’s your choice.

    – Drew, London

    Every day, this country gets worse…yesterday it was the poor man beaten to death for helping a homeless couple in Norwich…today, this.These scumbags who egged on poor Shaun (what a beautiful looking boy, so sad) are unfortunately the products of their parents and we have their parents to blame. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy and they will have children of their own (probably already have if they’re teenagers!) and will not be taught respect, morals or ‘what is right’. The problem will only get worse.The thing is, they don’t have anything themselves to live for…such sad, pointless lives…so they make trouble, drink/take drugs and breed.The answer? Harsh, swift punishment. Bring back the death penalty for this country. Take benefits off the parents if their children misbehave. Something needs to be done soon as this country is rotting…

    – Claire, Northampton, UK
    Well yeah, it is harsh and very stupid of those idiots who were telling him to jump… but… surely he had a mind of his own…

    – Andreas, High Wycombe

    The person in question shouldn’t have climbed up there if there was doubt in his mind about ending his life, there obviously was or he wouldn’t have waited hours. He and he alone is responsible for his death, by choosing to seek attention in such a public fashion. Mob mentality is well documented, and there are countless historic and current examples of crowds baying for blood; gladiators, boxing and all contact sport, cock and dog fighting, even the people who cheer every horrific motorsport accident how many of you can say hand on hart you have never acted in this fashion in the privacy of your own homes. Not to mention there are countless “breakdowns of relationships everyday” it is only the week willed immature members of society who peruse to gain recognition via a illegal selfish act.

    – Matt, manchester

    You can’t blame onlookers for Shaun’s suicide, because you can’t tell if he was going to jump, even if everyone was shouting don’t jump. You can’t blame others for an individuals actions. Others may have been urging Shaun to jump, but it was Shaun himself that put fate into his own hands.

    – Mr Incredible, W’ton

    No K, it’s not an offence – sadly. Derby – wish you were there? No not really.But it is a crime what those people did – the kind of crime – that is becoming typical – one that in today’s ‘street’ society – people have calculated is outside the statute book and so do it. Like it’s not illegal to screen vile, violent degrading American filth. Damn well should be. Where are the laws on incitement to violence?

    – Dave, watford

    I was going to say I cannot believe people could be so callous and cruel as to do this to an incredibly desperate young man, but unfortunately in this day and age, I can.I hope the people who were telling him to jump receive their just rewards and i hope the guilt will stay with them. It is terrible that the morons shouting at Shaun will not be prosecuted, but i would like to say to Penny, unfortunately for those people who receive ASBOs, they just seem to be deemed as ‘status symbols’ and something to be proud of!My sincere condolences to Shaun’s family, I cannot begin to imagine the heartbreak they are feeling.

    – Lisa, West Yorkshire

    Sick twisted idiots who goaded him to jump. Regardless if he was having mental problems, they still should not have goaded him. How would they like it if it was one of their family members threatening to jump, and they did after being goaded by the croud.

    – Dom, London, UK

    Welcome to modern Britain.

    – Ice, Llandudno, Wales

    This is absolutely vile. I literally despair of human beings sometimes. I really think there is something wrong with English society today. I, for one, am sick to death of drunk and aggressive teenagers on the street and the amount of violent crimes commited on a daily basis. I just wish I knew what the answer was.

    – Bella, London

    Will the police single out these idiots that taunted this poor guy to his death. They should be charged with assisting in suicide – idiots.

    – Timothy Dutton, West Bromwich, United Kingdom

    What a sick world we live in, that poor boy. My thoughts are with his family at such a sad, sad time. I hope those sick on lookers live in guilt for a long time having goaded a desperate human being into ending their own life.

    – Lindsey, Dorset

    Just goes to prove, some people have no sympathy for people who want to take the easy way out.

    – Justin, London

    This is sick and depraved. You’d think goading someone into committing suicide would be some sort of offence?

    – K, Manchester

    That poor lad. What on earth has happened to society? If it’s not horrific enough that his poor parents have to live with the fact that their son was desperate enough to kill himself; they now have to contend with the thought that he was abused by mindless ididots – and that those were the last words that he heard.Those “less than human beings” might just as well have physically pushed him off the roof themselves. Unbelieveable. Unfathomable. Incomprehensible.I fear that respect and compassion are fast becoming obsolete in some parts of society. So much for human beings’ “supreme intelligence” – what a way to exhibit it! My sincere condolences to the poor lad’s family; his torment will stay with them forever RIP young Shaun. May your memory be respected far more than your last moments in this life were.

    – Samantha Green, Somerset, UK

    Those that bayed for Shaun to jump are disgusting. Let them dwell on what they did, it’s unforgivable. Any decent ones amongst them that realise how wrong they were should contact the family and apologise. Condolences to Shaun’s family and friends, please be sure there are far more decent people than sick.

    – Steve, Braintree

    People can be so disgusting. They should be held accountable. People are not expected to take responsibility for anything these days. Serve them all with ASBOs.

    – Penny, West London

    I wonder if any of these people goading him to jump might be charged with being an accessory?As a parent myself, I’m disturbed that a young person can be goaded into something like this, and if someone else was responsible for the straw that broke the camels back, so to speak, with my child, I’d want them locked away forever.

    – Roberto Maietta, London

    What was the age range of the “baying crowd of onlookers”? I bet you they were not in their 30’s and upwards. We are now reaping what we sowed – teach and instill what is right irrespective of who or what people are or where they come from and you will be rewarded with well adjusted and responsible human beings (sow the right seeds and you harvest the right crop). I promise you there’s more to come – most of that baying crowd will have children of their own!

    – Toneurge, London,UK

    All those people screaming for him to jump, how very cruel. They should have been arrested and charged with helping his commit suicide.


    If this type of action is not a crime then it should be. The people responsible should be identified and prosecuted for at the very least assisting in a suicide. It is time we used the power of the law against those who should be ashamed to live in a decent society, rather than those assisting terminally ill loved ones, that are in pain, to pass away more mercifully.

    – Tony, london

    Children of the Thatcher generation. You wouldn’t expect them to have any compassion would you.

    – Steve, Birmingham

    What has become of this country? It beggars belief that the strongest response that the police could think of was commenting ‘”People were at the police cordon shouting for the man to jump,” he said. “I find it a disturbing and shocking reflection on society when people feel inclined to do that.’The people voicing encouragement should of been charged with manslaughter at the very least – as a case in point, Derek Bentley in 1952 was hung for allegedly uttering the words “Let him have it” which resulted in the killing of a police officer… I can’t see what’s so different in this case.

    – Anonymous, London

    To me the whole issue of ‘Dignity in Dying’ is startlingly inappropriate in a culture like ours which is so socially divided, where ‘suicide’ is the currency of so many social networking sites for people in unemployment hotspots.

    Baroness Warnock’s comments seem reminiscent of the Nazis propaganda campaign to the jewish population that they were going to be ‘resettled’. I think they made films of the ‘happy lives’ the resettled jewish population were now having that ordinary western cinema goers consumed like popcorn.

    Posted by Bent Society at 22:56 8 comments

  5. Thanks for that Paula! worthy of a post all in itself! I read about that story and saw it reported and I was horrified.

  6. My mother, who suffered from dementia for over 5 years, recently died. For the past 2 years she has been wanting to die and claiming she was going to find a way to accomplish it, although she was wheelchair-bound and so weak and incapable of actually committing suicide. Despite her dementia she realized that she didn’t want to live the kind of life in the kind of situation she was. And despite her dementia she still demonstrated some of the pre-disease qualities that marked her sparkling and gracious personality. She always thanked us for coming to visit and apologized for not having any snacks to offer us (at the nursing home). Was she a burden? Never. She was a challenge for sure, but dementia didn’t lessen her importance and dearness to us her family members, and now that she is gone I just wish that once again I could hear her voice and feel her kiss. She was, after all, my mother.

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