Another side to the UK euthanasia debate

Elisabeth Shepherd and her son James

London’s Daily Mail is a tabloid’s tabloid but its reporters are expert at tracking down and interviewing people with stories to tell, even if they don’t have publicists. Taking its cue from the euthanasia debate over whether people in pain, terminal illness, or severe disability should have the option of assisted suicide, the newspaper interviewed Elisabeth Shepherd. 

Ms Shepherd cares for her 36-year-old son James, her fifth child. At the age of 8 James was struck by a car and hovered between life and death for months. Now he is a quadriplegic, can barely speak and is incontinent. But she cheerfully soldiers on, alone, day after day, caring for him.

She contacted the Daily Mail after another mother, Kay Gilderdale, was acquitted of the attempted murder of her severely disabled daughter. “Your admiration for the mother of Lynn Gilderdale frightens me,” she told the newspaper. “My fear,” she says, “is that if people begin to think of assisted suicide as an option then the balance will change. As a society, we will shift towards a different mindset. A mindset in which people like James begin to appear expendable.”

Ms Shepherd says that her convictions are not religious, but based on her belief in an inalienable human dignity.

“I do believe in a God, but my instinct that life is precious is not just grounded in that. It's partly from watching doctors fight so hard to preserve the least glimmer of life. It's also because I feel we're sold an ideal and people feel that if they don't have it they're not enough. But if we become a tickbox society, where we say no because someone can't have sex or cannot feed themself, where will that leave us?

“What is a human being? Is my son any less of a human being? Am I, because having done a law degree I didn't pursue my legal career and became a carer? Does that make me, or James, any less of a contributor to society? We all want something. But my aspirations and James's are different. Others might long to be an air hostess; we just want to see him flex a finger.”  ~ Daily Mail, Feb 18

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