Thursday, February 25, 2010

What does "assisted suicide" or "mercy killing" mean, anyway?

Since the aquittal of Kay Gilderdale for the attempted murder of her daughter Lynn recently (see previous posts), other people have been confessing to killings, or failing to prevent people from committing suicide. One was Ray Gosling, a rather odd man who'd previously publicly aired his financial problems. He says he smothered a sort of friend who was dying from AIDS-related illnesses, though he was vague about the details. Another was Barrie Sheldon from Suffolk, who says he helped his wife, who had Huntingdon's Disease, to hoard prescribed drugs until she had a fatal dose, then went out while she took them. She didn't die then - it took another four days.

Now the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, has introduced some new guidelines on so-called "assisted suicides". According to the Guardian,
Starmer made it clear that relatives who actively help a terminally ill individual to die are not covered by the guidelines and individuals could be expected to be charged with murder or manslaughter.
Kay Gilderdale could still face criminal charges.

The BHA has contributed to the debate. Andrew Copson is quoted as saying,
Terminally ill or incurably suffering people do not have full autonomy and choice at end of life, and those that are vulnerable are still at risk because legal safeguards, which would accompany the legalisation of assisted dying, are not in place to protect them from coercion or other malice.
It's still a muddle. No one who pleads that he or she killed someone to be "merciful" should automatically be believed and treated sympathetically, however much the victim appeared to be suffering, without a full criminal investigation. That would give the pro-life lobby a huge advantage and set back the cause of legal euthanasia by decades.


Joey said...

I am beyond a shadow of a doubt in favor of "assisted suicide" (or whatever you're supposed to call it if you're in favor of it).

That said, there is an important consideration to make sure that the patient has the capacity to make that choice (or has left instructions for the eventuality) and that the person carrying out the orders is doing it for ethical reasons. Just crying "mercy killing!" isn't enough for a defense.

Like many things, this is why it should be legalized everywhere -- so that legal and ethical standards can be set up, so that the medical community can be involved, and so that neither the person who wishes to die with dignity nor the people, doctors or otherwise, who assist him are criminalized.

Margaret said...

This is more or less Terry Pratchett's view, and mine too, but in the case of Lynn Gilderdale, it's not so clear.