Thursday, 30 July 2009

Law Lords and assisted suicide

One accessory I must get for my car is a lead to plug into the radio so that I can play mp3s through it and listen to talks on my way round the M25 and resist the temptation to listen to the news on Radio 4. On the way back from Parkminster after Vespers, this evening's 5 o'clock news was particularly nauseating as it was announced in tones rather like announcing the freeing of the Birmingham Six, that Debbie Purdy has won her appeal to the Law Lords.

They found that according to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, a person has the right to choose how they die, because that is a part of their private life which must be respected. They have ordered the Director of Public Prosecutions to set out a policy statement which will make it clear to the public under what circumstances anyone will be prosecuted for assisting another person to commit suicide. Since there have been over 115 cases of people committing suicide at the Swiss Dignitas clinic and nobody has yet been prosecuted for assisting them, it is a fair bet that the policy will make it clear that no prosecution will be undertaken in the case of someone terminally ill or severely disabled.

Although much is made of the claim that the Law Lords do not have the power to change the law, this is, like the Tony Bland case, a significant change in practice, introduced under the guise of a legal judgement. Lord Falconer, who has campaigned for assisted suicide, called today's judgement a "very significant victory."

John Smeaton has a post about this decision, and has previously written on the case.

Parliament has quite rightly resisted the legalisation of assisted suicide and this judgement effectively skirts round the democratic process. I presume we can now look forward to assisted suicide clinics in our own country in the reasonably near future. Since the Mental Capacity Act is now in place, it is only a matter of time before another hard case is brought forward to justify the non-voluntary euthanasia of the mentally incapacitated according to what their relatives or some appointed advocate decides is in their "best interests". In addition, those who are capable of making a decision will feel under further pressure not to "be a burden" on their family or society once suicide is seen as an acceptable option.
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