Friday, 26 February 2010

Keir Gets it Wrong

Yesterday the DPP published his guidance about assisted suicide. He doesn't seem to be thinking as clearly as Gordon Brown.

The scene: a typical suburban home. The date: a year or two in the future. A man has just murdered his wife with a lethal overdose. The interviewing police officer reviews the DPP's "public interest factors" with him ...

The 16 public interest factors in favour of prosecution:

1. The victim was under 18 years of age.
"She was my age."

2. The victim did not have the capacity (as defined by the Mental Capacity Act 2005) to reach an informed decision to commit suicide.
"Far from it; she had a very responsible job."

3. The victim had not reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision to commit suicide.
"Of course she had."

4. The victim had not clearly and unequivocally communicated his or her decision to commit suicide to the suspect.
"She kept telling me she wanted to die."

5. The victim did not seek the encouragement or assistance of the suspect personally or on his or her own initiative.
"She begged me to help her do this."

6. The suspect was not wholly motivated by compassion; for example, the suspect was motivated by the prospect that he or she or a person closely connected to him or her stood to gain in some way from the death of the victim.
"But I loved her!"

7. The suspect pressured the victim to commit suicide.
"She told me she couldn’t stand it any longer."

8. The suspect did not take reasonable steps to ensure that any other person had not pressured the victim to commit suicide.
"It was definitely all her own idea."

9. The suspect had a history of violence or abuse against the victim.
"Our marriage was extremely happy."

10. The victim was physically able to undertake the act that constituted the assistance himself or herself.
"Unfortunately, she’d got to the point that she couldn’t even feed herself."

11. The suspect was unknown to the victim and encouraged or assisted the victim to commit or attempt to commit suicide by providing specific information via, for example, a website or publication.
"We’ve been married for years."

12. The suspect gave encouragement or assistance to more than one victim who were not known to each other.
"I’d never help anybody else in this way."

13. The suspect was paid by the victim or those close to the victim for his or her encouragement or assistance.
"Of course not! How absurd."

14. The suspect was acting in his or her capacity as a medical doctor, nurse, other healthcare professional, a professional carer (whether for payment or not), or as a person in authority, such as a prison officer, and the victim was in his or her care.
"Definitely not."

15. The suspect was aware that the victim intended to commit suicide in a public place where it was reasonable to think that members of the public may be present.
"She wanted to die peacefully, at home."

16. The suspect was acting in his or her capacity as a person involved in the management or as an employee (whether for payment or not) of an organisation or group, a purpose of which is to provide a physical environment (whether for payment or not) in which to allow another to commit suicide.
"No, I don’t approve of such organisations."

The six public interest factors against prosecution:

1. The victim had reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision to commit suicide.
"She asked me over and over again, for months, to help her."

2. The suspect was wholly motivated by compassion.
"I loved her so much."

3. The actions of the suspect, although sufficient to come within the definition of the crime, were of only minor encouragement or assistance.
"I only did what she wanted to do; but she just couldn’t do it herself."

4. The suspect had sought to dissuade the victim from taking the course of action which resulted in his or her suicide.
"I kept on asking her if she was sure."

5. The actions of the suspect may be characterised as reluctant encouragement or assistance in the face of a determined wish on the part of the victim to commit suicide.
"I never wanted to do this, but she was so adamant that it was the right thing for her."

6. The suspect reported the victim’s suicide to the police and fully assisted them in their enquiries into the circumstances of the suicide or the attempt and his or her part in providing encouragement or assistance.
"I called you as soon as it happened."

"Don't you understand, it was because I loved her that I had to kill her?"

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Gordon Gets it Right

It was good to see that the Prime Minister has written a piece in the Daily Telegraph today against assisted suicide. (And as I write that sentence it strikes me forcibly just how much the country has changed in my life time. In earlier and, at least as far as this is concerned, better, times the subject wouldn't even be discussed; the possibility that such an act could be legalised would have been laughable.)

He begins by saying...

Many times in the past 80 years, Parliament has considered – and rejected – the legalisation of assisted suicide. If, in the wake of revived debate on these matters, a new proposal were to come forward, I do not believe the outcome would be any different.

Cases dominating the public arena make for harrowing reading and the first and most obvious response is to say that something must be done. But when these complex, individual and distressing cases are considered in detail, a solution that at first might seem sensible – the right to die in a manner and at a time of one's choosing – swiftly becomes less straightforward and more worrying.
And rightly concludes (my emphasis)...
The law – together with the values and standards of our caring professions – supports good care, including palliative care for the most difficult of conditions; and also protects the most vulnerable in our society. For let us be clear: death as an option and an entitlement, via whatever bureaucratic processes a change in the law might devise, would fundamentally change the way we think about mortality.

The risk of pressures – however subtle – on the frail and the vulnerable, who may feel their existences burdensome to others, cannot ever be entirely excluded. And the inevitable erosion of trust in the caring professions – if they were in a position to end life – would be to lose something very precious. For when I think of the kind of care Sarah and I saw in our local hospice, where we worked as volunteers, I know in my heart that there is such a thing as a good death.

And I believe it is our duty as a society to provide the skilled and loving care that makes it possible; and to use the laws we have well, rather than rush to change them.
Now if only he could think as clearly about abortion, sex education and religious liberty we might be getting somewhere!