Tuesday, October 14, 2008

first they came for the photogenic

The Director of Public Prosecutions has been asked to clarify under what conditions it would prosecute the husband of a woman woman suffering from MS for taking her to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, where people are assisted to die.

The DPP sees the importance of this case and earlier this month allowed SPUC (the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children) to make a contribution, during which it stated that Mrs Debby Purdy's campaign would "serve to undermine vulnerable people".

Debbie Purdy and Omar Puente
Last month, Baroness Warnock commented that people with Alzheimer's disease were "wasting people's lives" and stated there was "nothing wrong" with people being helped to die for the sake of society. Conservative MP Nadine Dorries recognised what she was speaking about: the Telegraph article I link to above quotes her as saying: "I believe it is extremely irresponsible and unnerving for someone in Baroness Warnock's position to put forward arguments in favour of euthanasia for those who suffer from dementia and other neurological illnesses" (my italics).

Warnock's original article was called "A Duty to Die?" This has been the title of various ethical articles, but I believe she chose that title as a reference to a joint statement by Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Cormac Murphy O' Connor and Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks in a letter to the Times bemoaning the legislative drift from the right to die for the terminally ill to their "duty to die".

Where Mrs Purdy seems to be coming from is that whereas para. 1 of the Suicide Act 1961 abrogates "the rule of law whereby it is a crime for a person to commit suicide", para 2 states:
(1)A person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another, or an attempt by another to commit suicide, shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.

(2)If on the trial of an indictment for murder or manslaughter it is proved that the accused aided, abetted, counselled or procured the suicide of the person in question, the jury may find him guilty of that offence.
However, her campaign is a strange one, given that of the more than 100 Britons who have been helped to die at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, there has not been one prosecution. She has stated that she feels her husband Omar Puente "would be more likely to face prosecution as he is black and a foreigner".

Joshua Rozenberg refers to the case of MS Diane Pretty, who failed to get a legal guarantee that her husband would not be prosecuted for helping her to die. In her case, the European Court of Human Rights decided that it could not interfere with Great Britain's applying para 2 of the Suicide Act. However, What Purdy and Puente are asking for is a technical clarification of the circumstances in which the DPP would bring a prosecution against Mr Puente for assisting in some as yet undefined way with Mrs Purdy's suicide. Mr Rozenberg's interpretation of the outcome of the judicial review was: "wait and see".

neighbours complained about Dignitas bringing people back to a flat in this block to die, photo courtesy of the Daily TelegraphDignitas has long been the subject of controversy. It assisted people to die in a flat in a residential block until the neighbours complained, and then moved to a hotel room, from which it was also barred. It then resorted to handing over barbiturates to people who wanted to kill themselves in a car park; they would then drive to another car park and swallow the drugs. From 1998-2007, it killed over 750 non-Swiss, charging £3,000 ($5,000) each.

Personally, I think Baroness Warnock made her "duty to die" statement in the knowledge that this case was coming up. I think, too, that the soap Emmerdale will be running a suicide storyline off the back of this - with an abusive husband representing a certain sector of society, and the wife urging him to go on taking the pills standing in for the "enlightened" campaigners who would like to free the aged, ill and sad from oppression.

But how enlightened are these campaigners? Warnock refers to the cost to the NHS - ie taxpayers' money, a hot topic in recent months - in keeping the incapacitated alive. On the other side of the mortal coil, the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology referred to the "financial hardship in the bringing up of the sickest babies" in its proposal for infanticide. And even Dignity in Dying, for Pete's sake (formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society) has criticised Dignitas for its proposal to help people with chronic mental health problems (a drain on society's resources?) to die. Indeed, commenting on the Purdy case, John Smeaton, head of SPUC, referred to the propensity of people with multiple sclerosis to suffer depression and suicidal thoughts.

There is a version of a famous poem about how a populace allowed itself to sleepwalk into calamity on the New England Holocaust Memorial:
Pastor Martin Niemöller, from a Time cover - click to see the story of 'first they came for...'
They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

On 9/11, "spin doctor" Jo Moore sent an infamous email to members of the British government stating that it was "a good day to bury bad news". I would suggest that this whole dismal season is time to watch out for the rights of all those who cannot assert them for themselves for whatever reason, or who are being manipulated by a cynical politically-correct media machine as a way to hammer a eugenic wedge once more into the fabric of society. Alternatively, one day if you become less able you might find it is a good day to bury you, and there will be nobody left to hear your voice.

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