“Right To Die” and “Assisted Dying”. Debate Heightens.

“Right To Die” and “Assisted Dying”. The Debate Heightens.

The Newspapers are full of the debate about the so-called “right to die” which has been highlighted by the recent assisted suicide of Jeffrey Spector.

The debate is not actually about the right to die. We all have that. Suicide is not a crime in England, though it used to be before 1961. The debate is about the right of third parties to “assist” the suicide in bringing about death.

Mr Spector was a fully active man of 54, but diagnosed with a tumour on his spine. He feared this would eventually kill him, but not before a lengthy period of increasing disability pain and paralysis.

He knew that he did not want to live in a condition of helplessness, and he also knew that the law of UK might prosecute any family or friends who would help him to die, if he waited. So he did what he considered to be the sensible thing, and went to die at Dignitas whilst he was fit and able to do so on his own. [It cost him £8500.00]

One question is, would he have lived longer if the laws in UK would have allowed him to commit suicide later, when he needed help to do so, without the threat of prosecution of those helpers?

Well the answer to that is clear since he gave an interview before his death – Yes – I would not be doing this today if I knew that I could leave it until later without my family risking Criminal Trials for Murder and then maybe imprisonment.

It is not pedantry to point out that the word Suicide comes from the Latin “sui caedere”. The killing of “Oneself”. Not, the killing of “another person”. So the phrase “Assisted Suicide” is something of an oxymoron. For the Deceased it might be suicide, for the Assistant, it could well be Murder. And at present anyone who “assists” is very likely to face police investigation, prosecution and trial, criminal conviction and imprisonment.

Even if acquitted, they face complete disruption of their lives; Press and social media notoriety, loss of income, loss of job maybe loss of home – all the horrors of being the focus of the Criminal process.

The sad story of Mr Spector has resulted in emotional responses. Responses which are contradictory:- on the one side decrying the present Law as actually working to shorten lives [as in Mr Spector’s case] but on the other pointing to the safeguards inherent in denying anyone the right to kill – or assist the killing of – another human being.

The fear of those who oppose relaxation of the present rules, is the classic “thin end of the wedge” argument. That what used to be illegal (Suicide) became legal in 1961. The next step is that it becomes compulsory!

Most of us, knowing we will get old, realize that a day may come when our life depends upon caring family, nurses and doctors. We do not want to think that there will be any pressure at all on those carers to “assist” our dying against our wishes, in support of agendas of their own.

What about greedy relatives only too happy to assist the departure of their wealthy but inconveniently and obstinately ALIVE old Great-Grandma? Or Hospitals full to bursting with elderly patients who will never be able to leave except in their coffins – but who prefer life to death?

The views which are held on both sides are held sincerely and strongly.

The topic was debated in Parliament earlier this year. No conclusion was reached then because the date for the Election meant there was not enough time.

Lord Falconer said from the heart –  “Some say that the current law should just be allowed to continue. They are wrong. Without intending to be, and despite the very best efforts of those who seek to enforce it, the current law provides the option of an assisted death to those rich enough to go abroad; for the rest, it provides despair and often a lonely, cruel death — and no adequate safeguards”

Just as emotively, Baroness Campbell of Surbiton said: “First, I must declare a very important interest. THIS BILL IS ABOUT ME. I did not ask for it and I do not want it but it is about me nevertheless. Before anyone disputes this, imagine that it is already Law and that I ask for assistance to die. Do your Lordships think that I would be refused? No; you can be sure that there would be doctors and lawyers willing to support my right to die. Sadly, many would put their energies into that rather than improving my situation or helping me to change my mind. The Bill offers no comfort to me. It frightens me because, in periods of greatest difficulty, I know that I might be tempted to use it. It only adds to the burdens and challenges which life holds for me.”

There is a link here to the latest Parliamentary briefing note. From there you can download the full 26 page report which very clearly and in detail sets out history, issues and concerns.

A real problem here is that the concerns of both sides are so obviously sensible.

My view? Nobody will change the law because of what a Notary in Leeds thinks. But for what it’s worth, I do think there is a real risk of “Legislation Creep” and the law of unintended consequence. The best intentions can bring in  the worst results. Remember the Cobra effect? –

[The term cobra effect stems from an anecdote set at the time of British rule of colonial India. The British government was concerned about the number of venomous cobra snakes in Delhi. The government therefore offered a bounty for every dead cobra. Initially this was a successful strategy as large numbers of snakes were killed for the reward. Eventually, however, enterprising persons began to breed cobras for the income. When the government became aware of this, the reward program was scrapped, causing the cobra breeders to set the now-worthless snakes free. As a result, the wild cobra population further increased. The apparent solution for the problem made the situation even worse.]

Who would be a legislator! Good luck to them, they and we need it.

I hope I can find a more cheerful topic next week

Here I am in Leeds, for all your Notary needs. Do get in touch whenever I can assist  and  whenever you have a legal issue which has any foreign element notary@atkinsonnotary.com or phone me or Louise +44 (0) 1138160116