Paul Bowen, Barrister – April 2010
“One of the features of human rights law, and I think you have to understand that this was an argument that was rooted entirely in human rights law, is that it requires a balance to be struck between the interests of the individual and the wider interests of the public at large.”
Philippa Gitlin, Director, CARITAS Social Action Network – April 2010
“I think experience is beginning to give concern to people that there comes a point where people are expected to make a judgment as to what human life is worth continuing and what isn’t, and I think that’s a really, really dangerous place to be.”
Professor Raymond Tallis, Professor of Geriatric Medicine – April 2010
“It seems to me that assisted dying is a signal about me taking seriously the valuation that you put on the last three or four weeks of a life in which you know you’re going to die anyway.”
Alison Davis, Sufferer of spina bifida, emphysema, osteoporosis and arthritis – April 2010
“What they tend to say is if you don’t want assisted suicide then don’t have it. But then I’m saying I would have had it and I would have missed, goodness, I would have missed the best years of my life, and nobody would have ever have known that the doctors were ever actually wrong in saying that I didn’t have long to live.
And the best lay in the future, and the worst was getting behind me by then.”
Professor Peter Cave, Philosopher – April 2010
“I really think that as a matter of consistency, as we allow people to commit suicide, these individuals who need some help under many constraints and so on, really we should allow them to get that help through some version of assisted dying…
…if you didn’t have that control in any degree sometimes, then it would be like starting a painting that you’re never allowed to finish.”
Lady Jane Campbell, Life Peer and Independent Crossbench Member of the House of Lords – March 2010
“When one gets ill they think oh my God, if I’m going to end up in a wheelchair I would rather be dead, and it’s a very simplistic analysis of what it is to be us. And so what I’m trying to do in the assisted dying debate is really to integrate the voices of those living with extremely complex and challenging disabilities, and the voices of people who say, ‘Hang on a minute, we don’t want to die, we like our life, stop viewing us in this way, because it’s doing nothing for our self esteem.’”
James Harris, Head of Campaigns and Communication, Dignity in Dying – April 2010
“Do I want to live in a society where we help disabled people to end their lives? No I don’t, and I don’t think many people do either. But do I want to live in a society whereby terminally ill people, even with access to good quality care, are suffering? Do I want to live in a society which says to dying people, ‘No actually you’re going to have to continue suffering against your wishes because of other people’s views?’ And I think that’s completely inappropriate.”
Suzy Croft, Social Worker, St. John’s Hospice, London – April 2010
“I think that what will happen is that people will start to feel under pressure to do it, not to be in the way. I don’t think that when you’re a very old, sick woman you’re valued in our society anyway, and if you haven’t got family then you might start to feel, should I be around taking up services?”
Lesley Close, Relative of Dignitas patient, John Close – May 2010
“We kissed him and we said goodbye and we walked up the road with an empty wheelchair and a bag full of clothes.
And I can honestly tell you that that changed my life because it made me realise that there was an alternative to suffering intolerably at the end of terminal illness, and that doctors in Switzerland and in other countries have found a way to be able to reconcile those two duties of preserving life and reducing suffering, and I’ve not looked back.”
Tara Flood, Chief Executive Officer, Alliance for Inclusive Education – April 2010
“People are terrified of shifting from visible, world of majority, non-disabled people, to this other world that people see as so awful, so burdensome, so negative, so dependent on others and so worthless, people would do anything to avoid stepping into our shoes, they absolutely would.”
Naomi Phillips, Head of Public Affairs, British Humanist Association – April 2010
“Humanists are very moral and ethical, and it’s very much about morality, but we see it properly rooted in human beings and not coming from somewhere else.
And because of those things, respect for people’s wishes is really important, and we think dying is a really important part of living, an important part of life, and as such people should have the autonomy as far as possible, I suppose in an ideal society, to choose the manner in which they die.”
Doctor Andrew Fergusson, Head of Communications, Christian Medical Fellowship – April 2010
“[The] most important thing that law does is to teach us about what we hold valuable, and when you change the law, like the ‘67 Abortion Act, you change the climate of public opinion within which individuals make their ethical choices.
Having worked with people with disabilities and with those who care for them, yes, one of the great joys of being a doctor is seeing the reserves of moral courage that people find in themselves when push comes to shove. When you’re perfectly healthy, and you’re asked the question in a shopping mall survey, you say, ‘Yeah of course I’d want out.’ But when it happens people hold on to life.”
Baroness Ilora Finlay, Professor of Palliative Care, Cardiff University – March 2010
“If you are a patient and you are saying, ‘I don’t want to live anymore, I just want to die,’ the way that people respond to you determines the message you get, and if they respond by listening sympathetically and publicly and saying, ‘Well are you sure about this?’ and, ‘Is this really what you want?’ they’re being given a subliminal message that actually, you’re right to think about it and you would be better off dead.
If you respond to that by saying to them, ‘What is it that’s making life so terrible today, so difficult? Is there anything at all that can be done to make today slightly better?’ and you address those concerns, you’re actually giving a subliminal message that you are a person of worth and that you are worth me working hard for.”
Professor Peter Beresford, Professor of Social Policy, Brunel University, and Chair of ‘Shaping Our Lives’ – April 2010
“I am all for people having control over their own lives and death. But how you make that policy that isn’t oppressive or discriminatory, I don’t know.”
Angela F, Sufferer of Huntington’s Disease – April 2010
“I don’t want to end up like my Mum and I don’t want to end up like my Grandma, because my Grandma lived until she was in her early eighties and she wasn’t normal for a long time before that; I can only really remember her being normal when I was quite small.”
If one of the purposes of law is to set boundaries and distinctions for the realms of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, confused law inevitably makes for confused societal values. In the words of Doctor Andrew Fergusson, we see the law in this area operating with ‘a stern face but a tender heart.’
‘The Value of Life and Death’ is an exploration of members of British society who have been affected by and involved with assisted suicide, and related topics. Prima facie, this project is about highlighting the varied and extensive public and professional opinions that need to be considered when contemplating whether legal change is necessary in this area. Further than this, it is about our human desire and ability to be considerate, compassionate, contemplative and emotionally motivated when trying to understand the values that we should place on personal worth and the worth of others; whether those values be moral, legal, medical, sociological or personal.
Through producing these portraits in conjunction with interviewing my subjects, I have attempted to offer the viewer an opportunity to make a humanistic link between the subjects and their perspectives, opinions and evidence, in order to give the issue an identity through the informed experience of others.