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A Short Trip to Switzerland

by Eadmund

The BBC is at this moment displaying an unbelievable act of walking on the fence, by refusing to broadcast an appeal for the hapless and dispossessed citizens of Gaza, who through no fault of their own have had their families and, most tragic of all, their children wounded and slain and their houses crushed to rubble. One could wish that the BBC might display a little more charity in a case where many folk would say that their wish to be seen to be even-handed was being carried to ridiculous extremes. One could, however, wish that they would display equal restraint by not broadcasting (by a quirk of fate – or one could say an act of Divine Providence – on the same evening)[1] a play about a Doctor, Anne Turner who, having seen her husband die of a progressive and debilitating disease, visited a clinic in Switzerland to have herself put down when diagnosed with a similar complaint. Her grown-up children were at first horrified, but eventually came round in the face of her unflinching determination to pursue this objective.

Both of these actions: the cold-heartedness towards the citizens of Gaza and the broadcast of the play A Short Trip to Switzerland, are just the two latest contributions by the BBC to the Culture of Death that seems to be engulfing us all[2].

I have actually watched the play right through: not for enjoyment but in order to be able to write this review (just to pre-empt those who might criticize me for slating something that I had not seen). It purported to accurately represent the facts of the case; but of course one cannot be any judge of that, as one only sees the play, not the, doubtless harrowing, circumstances that gave rise to it. I can only say that the actors interpreted their script very well. It offered the kind of emotional, heart-rending look into people’s private lives that delights the prurient. It did not offer any kind of rational input into the discussion of euthanasia that has been revived recently by advocates of the Culture of Death, and will presumably be continued by them until they have carried forward at least some of their objectives.

Doctor Turner was shown as a strong-minded individual who would not brook opposition to her ideas or plans. Her own doctor’s wife, who it was implied was a Roman Catholic, was given short shrift throughout the play, and was included, one felt, as the token resister: she put forward the required token resistance, which was that suicide was an act of cowardice, and having delivered this opinion, she departed. The decision to proceed with the suicide was from then on constantly being characterized as the ‘brave’ thing to do. Her son was represented as a homosexual, who declared his intention to ‘marry’ his partner shortly before the Doctor’s suicide (I am merely putting this in to emphasize my point about his mother’s dominant personality, but one might add that it was perhaps a little unfair of the playwright to make this extra swipe at established morality – although I suppose it emphasized the holistic nature of the loss of moral fibre). However, when she arrived in the flat in Switzerland with her three children, having visited the clinic to obtain the prescription for the poison, the assistant asked her for a brief word alone, in order to make certain legal requirements clear. The children then went outside the door and started to sing a hymn: ‘Glory to Thee my God this night / For all the blessings of the light …’ with which their mother, hearing them from inside, joined in. This episode was probably included to impress on people that euthanasia can be a good thing to do when one has progressive supranuclear palsy – given the context of the play it seemed to me both incongruous and gratuitous.

The suicide itself was not in any way dignified, unless one thinks that having to drink a poison so bitter that one then has to ram chocolate into one’s mouth in an effort to overcome the taste (a difficult thing to do when one has trouble swallowing – a symptom of the illness), and then has to be held upright to allow the poison to spread throughout the system, is dignified. Only when she was almost unconscious was Dr Turner allowed to be laid down on the bed. The whole process was being videotaped in order to comply with Swiss law.

Nothing in the play convinced me that the Doctor was at any time thinking of anyone other than herself, and her own ‘quality of life’, but presumably the argument of the atheist is that if one does not believe in God, then why should one consider anyone else? This cry of despair would seem to be unanswerable, and the only way I can answer it is to affirm that God has always existed, and that Christians formed civilization, as we know it. We can both turn our backs on love and dismantle something that has served us well for two millennia at the behest of a few latter-day foxes, which have lost their tails and want everyone else to cut off theirs, or we can repair it. Deliberate, cold-blooded suicide is the option of despair – the final rejection of love – and anyone who assists in that process is contaminated by it, and has the capacity to contaminate everyone else.

The fact that the legalization of this procedure in England would have the effect of destroying the trust of patients in their GPs was emphatically denied through the mouth of the Doctor during the programme. One wonders what statistics she was quoting. My own trust in my GP and local hospital staff has been considerably damaged by the knowledge that under present legislation I could be deprived of nourishment and effectively starved to death if I should lapse into a coma, and that unless I specifically reject it, I am liable to be given treatment involving transplants or foreign genetic material. If a law permitting euthanasia were enacted here, I would have to consider emigrating, although the fact is that I could probably not afford to do so, and in any case where would I go? The Culture of Death is rapidly rolling over the whole of Europe and the USA. Even now, for example, the newly elected President Obama has reversed President Bush’s ban on US spending on abortion promotion overseas. As John Smeaton, the leader of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children writes: ‘The first killings have been ordered by America’s new abortion president’.

Suicide in any form can only have the most traumatic effects on the close family and friends of the person concerned, as I know from recent experience. The way in which Dr Turner’s children were ‘converted’ to their mother’s point of view was not given adequate coverage in the play – they seemed to change from horror to acceptance, largely owing to the selfish determination of their dominant mother. The fact that Sophie, Dr Tuner’s daughter, is now apparently canvassing MPs to vote for a relaxation of the law relating to assisted suicide suggests that her conversion has been pretty complete; but I venture to suggest that this may be a reaction like the old fox-tail fable that I have referred to above. One has to make some kind of explanation that satisfies one’s reason, or run the risk of losing it altogether. This is another example of the contamination to which I have also already referred.

One question, however, which has troubled me in the past and has been forced into renewed prominence by the play, is: Would I continue to hold my beliefs if I were in the position of having seen my spouse die of a wasting disease and was then diagnosed with a similar condition? I’d like to say that I would. As my life wears on and death looms ever nearer, I cannot pretend that I have not considered the lengthy and painful forms that death often takes these days. I certainly pray for mercy in this regard; but I nevertheless also hope and pray that I will be willing to accept meekly whatever God in His wisdom and mercy decrees that I must suffer, and pray that grace may be given to me to try to minimise the impact of it on myself and on other people. Meanwhile I shall also pray for the strength to fight the Culture of Death wherever and whenever I find it. May God have mercy on us all!

The Sunday after Theophany, 2009 (25 January by the civil calendar).

[1] And, adding insult to injury, a Sunday evening.

[2] One could easily add a third, recent broadcast of a play called Hunter, where three pro-Lifers kidnapped with the intention of committing murder a girl with cerebral palsy and two healthy boys whose mothers had previously had abortions, in order to force the media to screen films showing abortions. One of the boys was actually killed before the perpetrators could be arrested. The inherent flaw in this synopsis will be obvious, and was never satisfactorily resolved. I might have reviewed this play as well, but in this case I did not have the misfortune of seeing the whole programme: it was in two episodes and I was attending the Vigil for the Theophany of Our Lord when the first broadcast was made.

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