No Precedent? Then Set One!

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I can hardly bear to see poor Tony Nicklinson’s face as he hears the news that he is not allowed to die. I am ashamed of my country and its laws. Here’s part of The Independent’s account (unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any way to bypass the commercial that pops up unbidden).



“The debate about assisted suicide has been reignited after the High Court ruled that two men with locked-in-syndrome cannot be legally helped to die.

Tony Nicklinson, 58, and a second man known as Martin, 47, mounted legal challenges in attempt to secure immunity from prosecution for any professional who helped them to die.

The men are completely physically dependent and can only move their eyes and eye lids yet remain cognitively sharp. Both want to die but neither is capable of taking their own life.

Lawyers acting for Mr Nicklinson, who suffered a catastrophic stroke in 2005, argued for an extension to the common law defence of ‘necessity’ for murder because the alternative – forcing him to stay alive – is worse. They also argued that the government is in breach of his Article 8 right to ‘privacy, dignity and autonomy’, a right he cannot exercise independently because of severe disability.

The court rejected the “bold” submission, stating that there was no precedent anywhere in the world and such socially controversial changes were only for Parliament.

The decision was condemned by Mr Nicklinson and his family but welcomed by medical leaders and religious groups.”

Yet again, religion turns out to be the major culprit. As Polly Toynbee wrote yesterday, there have been attempts in the House of Lords to do something about the right to seek professional (or even amateur) assistance in dying when you are too incapacitated to kill yourself:-

“In opinion polls, for years, more than 80% have supported this change in the law, but every attempt at a right-to-die reform has been sabotaged by the large religious lobby, galvanised by Care Not Killing. The red benches, heavily stacked with the religious, including 26 bishops, saw off the last bills.”

Polly also makes the excellent point that

“The irony of the law is that the dying must kill themselves long before their condition becomes intolerable. In Oregon, where the law allows it, the terminally ill know they can call for an injection whenever they feel they can take no more. That reassurance so eases their anxiety that fewer choose to end their lives. Dignitas has hundreds of British members on their “waiting list”, but they will have to make that grim journey to a bleak clinic far from home while they may still have months of reasonable life left. Besides, what hypocrisy for the law to allow suicide tourism, while denying medically assisted death at home where people want to die.”

It seems that the High Court judges could find only one serious objection to treating Tony Nicklinson humanely, and granting him his clearly expressed wish about what should happen to his own body. The objection is that there is “no precedent”.

Early in my Fellowship of New College, when the great philosopher A J (“Freddy”) Ayer was a senior Fellow, we were debating some measure that the majority wanted to pass. The minority objected that there was “no precedent”. Freddy’s response was instant, characteristic and genial. “No precedent? Then let’s set one!”

No precedent for allowing a human being to be put out of his appalling misery, when he has lost the ability to do it on his own? No precedent? Then in the name of humanity and decency SET ONE!

Written By: Richard Dawkins
continue to source article at

146 COMMENTS

  1. Apparently most nations only have precedents for murdering perfectly healthy (though maybe not mentally) people if there is a war going on or criminals are being pursued or punished.

  2. I agree, this is a complete outrage. As far as I am concerned, dying with dignity and in a comforting, emotionally supportive setting is a basic human right. Just as living with dignity is.

  3. I agree with Polly and RD, but you really have to have “been there” to get the full impact.  My first wife is a fully conscious vegetable in a very good nursing home in the UK.  She always suffered from depression and, years ago, attempted suicide at least once.  Now, after a massive stroke, she is incapable of doing anything for herself including ending her life.  Unlike the protagonists in the case just before the court she cannot even articulate her desires so, at this stage, we cannot know even if she wished to end her life.  It’s a real and devastating Catch 22.  She would not necessarily have reached this stage if humane laws were in place.  My “living” will definitely states no heroic measures to prolong life and, because I live in France, so under French law – and medical practice – there is a good chance that my wishes will be carried out.

    My second wife died recently, in France, of a burst aneurism in her brain.  The French medical team – amongst the best in the world – did everything know to aid her recovery but, after  6 days, it became evident that recovery was not possible.  They allowed her to pass with pain-free dignity with her family around her.  This was the best that could be hoped for.

    Not looking for sympathy here – we live in a truly random universe – but being in the situation described above makes me truly aware of the urgency of law reform in the area of assisted dying.

  4. seconded.

    there will always be those who, if not bleating about the sanctity of life, will subvert the argument with a thin end of the wedge approach, allow people to assist loved ones end in dignity and before you know it people might be coerced into dying against their will and are being killed off for the sake of freeing up hospital beds etc. utter twaddle and right up there in the reality stakes along with gay marriage results in people marrying their pets.

    at the moment there is no law stopping an individual attempting to take their own life. there was in the past and this law proved unworkable but those who would bring the law back are happy to use circumstance (the patient is incapable) to stop suicide.

    the only way to stop suicide is to help the suicidal realise they can go on living a productive and happy life with help. some people are beyond that however, so the law against assistance is like sticking two fingers up to the suffering saying “we can’t stop you ending your life but you’re not capable now so tough”.

    the able bodied actually have a right to attempt suicide by virtue of the fact the state has no right to stop them. this is a law that is aimed directly at the disabled and as such needs to be tested in the court of human rights.

  5. I feel fortunate to live in Washington State, which also has a Death with Dignity statute in place.  It was voted in several years ago, and the only people or groups who opposed it were religious – there was a lot of sanctimonious blather about God being in control of life and death. The only other argument they had was the classic slippery-slope:  If we let this pass, people will immediately use it to murder their sick relatives, and people will be committing suicide right and left.  But the voters overwhelmingly approved, as did doctors and nurses such as myself, and so far, not one suspicious death has been attributed to this law, nor has the suicide rate gone up.  
    Really, the only people against such personal autonomy are religious, and the hubris of their arguments is breathtaking.  How do they know their God doesn’t want these people to die, and we are disobeying His will by keeping them alive artificially?   Who are they to judge the quality of a person’s life and decide whether it’s worthwhile or not?  Without religion, I think all countries would allow people to live and die as they choose.

  6. English law has been built up on precedent down through the ages and the judiciary has jealously guarded its role against statutory intervention it appears to me that the judges have funked this one in face of impending religious uproar, but in the event of any statute law they will willingly interpret it with favourable prejudice to the establishment.

  7. Those who raise legal objections to euthanasia for people like Tony Nicklinson should experience immobility by the simple expedient of physical restraint.  A few days unable to do anything for themselves should do it. They should not be released until they are exhausted from screaming.

  8. I saw this poor fellow on the news yesterday, and he wept as he was given the decision that his life is not his own and he must suffer on.It was a truly heartbreaking scene.Here is a man that can do absolutely nothing for himself.Before his catastrophic stroke he was a strapping sportsman, now he is a withered shell.what fucking right has anyone else got to prevent this man ending his own misery with a little help from his loving wife? i am truly ashamed of the cowardly cunts we call politicians in this country!

  9. And they ask us, “why are we so angry about religion?”

    Why shouldn’t we be?

    The religious lobby in Britian bullies an innocent patient with the help of the legal system and the Russian Orthodox church along with the thug, Putin imprison artists for blasphemy and we are the bullies. Are you fucking mad?

  10. The most annoying aspect of the “no precedent” excuse is that, not only does it lack the asymmetry needed to justify the outcome for which it is considered an argument, but the outcome may be touted later *as* precedent. For example, in the present case there may be no precedent for allowing the suffering to die if they wish to, but clearly there’s also no precedent to forbid it (or else they’d point out that fact in opposing such permission). But if they get their way, ever subsequent euthanasia case will hear “there’s a precedent” to turn down applicants.

  11. A fairly new consortium/undertaking called the One Health Initiative brings together medical scientists, physicians and veterinarians together under one banner: human/non-human animal & environmental health.

    While the focus is definitely, and understandably, zoonosis challenges, I foresee this organization incorporating a pro-euthanasia (for humans) stance in their mission some day. Perhaps this is wishful thinking. 

    The beautiful part of a twenty-first century euthanasia technique (at least for non-human animals) is the fact that the patient doesn’t just progress from feeling crummy (or indeed painful) to all of a sudden feeling nothing at all. No. Euthanasia for “Rover,” for instance, includes a time-window of painlessness (possibly euphoria) before the second drug is administered which then stops cardiopulmonary action at the level of the brain.

    In other words, patients just don’t go from pain to oblivion. Their last moments (barring perhaps particularly uncommon mentation situations) are of experiencing bliss. No small thing.

    We must continue to be the voice for compassionate euthanasia. We afford dignity to other species legally, does Grandma deserve less? Sigh, apparently.

    Mike

  12. So, does the court think these gentlemen have some kinda chance to be contributing members of our society, or something? I don’t get it. That seems to be the only reason why they would be against the situation these men are in. How can they look at these men, who clearly have all justification to off themselves and just be like, “Nope. Pay your court fee at the window. Have a nice day.”?

  13. Did he not argue disability discrimination?  It’s appalling that he should be denied control over his life simply because he is disabled.  If he were not so severly disabled, he could kill himself.

    And I never understand why the religious are so against assisted suicide.  Surely the poor soul is off to heaven?  And don’t most of them believe that life is a gift from God?  Gifts are things you are given without strings.  If it is not a gift, which you can choose to treat as you like, it is just a loan. 

  14. I can’t believe there are many people who, if they had the ultimate decision to grant the request of the suffering person, would say, “no, the person must suffer ’til his natural death”. Almost everyone Ive ever spoken to about cases such as this one is unable or unwilling to justify refusing to allow someone to choose to end his life, though very often I find that those whose religious beliefs clash with their personal empathy show their discomfort at the clash by jumping to the ‘slippery slope’ argument.

    Obviously politicians should have the bottle to change the law, but regarding the short-term a thought occured to me: in Com. law countries, such as the UK and the US, it’s my understanding that juries have the power to acquit, for ANY reason, those who have been charged with an offence. If one brave person were to assist someone in taking his life, and the CPS/DPP/DA were to charge him with murder/manslaughter or whatever, would the ultimate decision not rest with the (decency of) the jury(on the law of averages, at least 4/5 of whom will be sympathetic), members of which could show their disapproval of such a prosecution, by acquitting the accused, thereby establishing a ‘precedent’ of their own, which would be an example to other juries that may have to decide on other similar cases in the future.

    I know it’s far from ideal and is no excuse for politicians’ refusing to grasp the nettle, but I wonder could it be a short-term solution for those in dire need? 

  15. I couldn’t agree more. To prolong the terrible suffering of this man is sheer cruelty. The selfishness  of  these beastly individuals who care more for their own opinions  than they do for their fellow humans is disgusting.

  16. Does anyone have a link to the judgment? I would like to read it as “no precedent” sounds like legal BS to me. In Common Law jurisdictions courts can and have developed the law without precedent to bring it in line with developing notions of human rights.

    Civil Law jurisdictions would be a different kettle of fish. The European mainland would, in general, need legislation, but not Britain.

  17. This is cruelty of the highest order. This man wants an end to his suffering. This should be his choice only and indeed his right. How dare the politicians and religious bigots deny this man something that we readily grant to animals. Primitive, cowardly, cold cruelty. Cruel cruel cruel. I am disgusted.

  18. It is not so long ago that we had capital punishment for some crimes in this country. So what is so bad about allowing a rational severely disabled man the right to die. The law is an ass and all those who deny this basic human right on the grounds of religious prejudice or any other premise are asses too. Its a disgrace that this mans family are not allowed to do the morally correct and humane thing.

  19.   There was an earlier discussion on the right to die here; – http://richarddawkins.net/disc

    It is a disgrace that UK citizens have to fight in the courts or travel to Switzerland to die with dignity free from theist busy-bodies attacking those who help them. There is also the secondary issue of legal busy-bodies seeking employment, not to mention politicians bottling out on the issue!

    The BBC site has this video of Mr Nicklinson and his wife, who said they would be appealing against the decision. – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-1

  20. “…along wiht gay marriage results in people marrying their pets…” Whats wrong with marrying your pet??

    But I wonder how many people who commit or want to commit suicide believe in an afterlife.

  21.  
    SaganTheCat
    but those who would bring the law back are happy to use circumstance (the patient is incapable) to stop suicide.

    The only way to stop suicide is to help the suicidal realise they can
    go on living a productive and happy life with help. some people are
    beyond that however, so the law against assistance is like sticking two
    fingers up to the suffering saying “we can’t stop you ending your life
    but you’re not capable now so tough”.

    There is more information on the Terry Pratchett case from a humanist viewpoint here:-
    One of the issues on that case was that people with degenerative conditions, were having to die earlier than necessary in order to avoid being mentally or physically incapable of self medication, as doctors were forbidden to administer the fatal medication even in Switzerland! Legal challenges could also be made if they became mentally incapable of giving consent. What is perfectly clear is that the suffering of the patient, is last on the list of priorities in most places.

    Terry Pratchett, Patrick Stewart and Ian McEwan back assisted dying – http://www.humanistlife.org.uk

    You will see on this link (quoted below) that the hysterical media can pervert any figures to boost sensationalism!

    Meanwhile, the Daily Mail is alarmed (for a change) that “Britons are
    travelling in record numbers to kill themselves at the Dignitas suicide
    clinic in Switzerland”. These “record figures” are based on a tiny
    sample – rates at which it only takes a few people to add a significant
    percentage – and compares the last three years’ average with the
    previous six years’ average, indicating that right or wrong the change
    probably isn’t so fast.

    The number of British suicides at the Zurich clinic has
    risen from an average of 14 a year between 2002 and 2007 to a total of
    76 – about 25 a year – from 2008-2010.

  22. Animals are afforded the compassion of a painless end to their suffering when it’s plainly obvious that it’s the right thing to do.  If this was a pet dog we were talking about, it would be put down humanely and its suffering would be brought to a painless end. 
    What is going on in this country? I agree with all the other comments – the “no precedent” argument is shallow and cowardly.  It is a disgrace to humanity.
    I will remember this next time there is a general election.  A politician who vows to tackle the difficult problems (such as these) and not shy away from his (or her) duty to the country, would carry a lot of favour with the people.  Let’s hope one day we finally get one.

  23. Religion feeds off the pain, fear and suffering surrounding death so it makes sense that
    the religious would want to preserve it. Having provided such amateur assistance myself, it would be a tremendous relief to turn such jobs over to professionals.

  24. This November, on the same ballot that we use for the Presidential election, Massachusetts state residents will also vote on a death with dignity ballot initiative.  If it passes, we will the the fourth state in the US to do so. Washington State, Oregon and Montana have already passed it.  

     I’ve heard from my few remaining churchgoing Catholic friends that the Priests are frothing at the mouth in their preaching against it.  If anyone is interested in reading the exact text of the proposed law, here is the link:

    http://www.mass.gov/legis/bill

  25. I couldn’t agree more with Dr.  Dawkins.  I live in the United States, and saw coverage of this barbaric ruling on television.  Honestly, I began to cry – It was utterly inhumane.  That said, the US basically holds the same view as the UK when dealing with this subject – Shame on them!  I repeat, shame on them!  Mr.  Nicklinson’s life and personal decisions should be what matters most.  He should be allowed to have dignity, respect, and honor. 

  26. While the suffering of these men is heart-wrenching I am unsure that the judges acted wrongly. Their remit is to interpret law as it has been written. This can of course lead to precedents that are used in later cases where laws are ambiguous, but it is not their job to change the law.

    The judges in their ruling demonstrated understanding of the situation faced by these men but ended up in the position of having to say that it was parliament’s job to change the law in a detailed way to allow these men what they need.

    I note that the media has somewhat simplified things; in the case of at least one of the patients the issue is that his wife will not help him ‘push the button’ so he would be reliant on a medical professional. His wife would not be prosecuted under DPP guidelines but a medical professional would.

    So perhaps the backlash from these cases will encourage parliament to do the right thing and enshrine in law people’s right to die with dignity when their life becomes unbearable.

     

  27. Here is the summing up in the judgment:

    “Tony’s and Martin’s circumstances are deeply moving. Their desire to have control over the ending of their lives demandsthe most careful and sympathetic consideration, but there are also other important issues to consider. A decision to Judgment Approved by the court for handing down.  Q on the appn of Nicklinson v MOJ Q on the appn of AM v DPP allow their claims would have consequencesfar beyond the present cases. To do as Tony wants, the court would be making a major change in the law. To do as Martin wants, the court would be compelling the DPP to go beyond his established legal role. These are not things which the court should do. It is not for the court to decide whether the law about assisted dying should be changed and, if so, what safeguards should be put in place. Under our system of government these are matters for Parliament to decide, representing society as a whole, after Parliamentary scrutiny, and not for the court on the facts of an individual case or cases. For those reasons I would refuse these applications for judicial review.”

  28. Spot on, Richard. How disgusting that this should still happen in the twenty-first century. Mr Nicklinson’s tears of anguish should melt the hardest heart but not, apparently, the frozen-on position of religious nutcases who assume we must all be as afraid of death as they are.

  29. This  is a disgusting decision and I am appalled that our law makers refuse to bite the bullet and take this on. We treat dogs better than we do humans, apparently the only thing that is allowed is to starve the patient to death. How barbaric is that? Until such time as we allow people to die with dignity, we have no right to call ourselves civilised.

  30. The utter wretchedness of this poor man’s life is appalling to contemplate. I’m reading Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire at the moment, and on the same day as this inhuman judgement was given, I came to this passage in the chapter about Law (chapter 42):

    “…the civilians [Roman judges] have always respected the natural right of a citizen to dispose of his life … Suicides are enumerated by Virgil among the unfortunate, rather than the guilty, and the poetical fables of the infernal shades could not seriously influence the faith or practice of mankind. But the precepts of the Gospel or the church have at length imposed a pious servitude on the minds of Christians, and condemn them to expect, without a murmur, the last stroke of disease or the executioner.”

  31. Virgin Mary
    I have to agree with those who say that this is a matter for parliament and not the courts.

    But for the stupidity of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Crown Prosecution Service, it would not be a matter for Parliament or the courts.

    Numerous obsolete ancient laws have been quietly forgotten about by people exercising intelligent judgement on respecting the rights of others, natural justice, and deciding that it is in the public interest not to bring a case to court.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/poli

    Peculiar laws allowing the killing of Scotsmen in York (providing they
    are carrying a bow and arrow), forbidding anyone from dying in the
    houses of parliament and permitting women to go topless in Liverpool –
    if, that is, they work as a clerk in a tropical fish shop – survived the
    Queen’s speech yet again yesterday.

    In the customary rush to create
    exciting new bills, the government once more lost the chance to repeal a
    list of legal curiosities. They include puritanical measures passed by
    Oliver Cromwell, which still forbid the consumption of mince pies on
    Christmas Day. The measures are usually written off as redundant because
    of a legal argument known as the “doctrine of implied repeal”,
    but the
    British tradition of common law based on precedent could allow a
    determined litigant to make a challenge.

    “All these laws were considered beneficial at the time they were passed,” said Jonathan Coad, head of litigation at the London specialist lawyers Swan Turton. “We may think it is nonsense now, but there was a time when it mattered that
    no one was allowed to stand within 100 yards of the monarch if they were not wearing stockings, hose or socks.”

    Other indignities to royals feature prominently in the acts most often cited. It has been illegal since the reign of George I (1660-1727) for a commoner’s pet to
    have carnal knowledge of an animal belonging to the monarch, for example a corgi. It can still be construed as treason to stick on a postage stamp with the monarch’s head upside down.

  32. The message they’re sending is your life does not belong to you, it belongs to the state (*cough cough* to god) and you don’t really have the right to destroy the state’s property.

  33. “No precedent”? For thing’s to move forward, for society to evolve, for people to evolve, and for ideas to evolve it takes someone to have the balls to step forward and set a precedent. Otherwise nothing changes. This judge was too spineless to be the one who stepped forward and made history. And as such Tony Nicklinson continues to suffer. What a wasted opportunity. What a disgrace.

    Thanks for the link to the petition JMF. Signed.

  34. I fail to see how this is not a matter for parliament, if you just allow people to off themselves or others willy nilly then the abuses would be tantamount to murder on the part of the state.

    It needs to be debated (and by that I mean passed), laws put in place, and then we can claim another moral victory of the church. But as far as I’m concerned it is far too complicated a matter with far running ramifications for a single judge to preside over.

  35. I apologise if I am missing something obvious, but if the situation with assisted dying is so legally difficult, why couldn’t there be an alternative – assisted coma?  Someone does not need to have their life ended to stop their suffering; being deeply unconscious would have the same effect, and it should avoid the legal or religious objections associated with death.

  36. I was staying with a friend when his mother who was in hospital died, the doctor called him in as it was clear the end was near.  The doctor explained that his mother was in pain, didn’t have more than a few weeks at best on full life support.  My friend was a nurse at the hospital and knew the drill.  The family went in said their goodbyes and life support was turned off, his mother then slowly suffocated to death. 

    Now, she was dosed up on morphine, I have no idea how much pain the dying from lack of oxygen the hospital could have clearly supplied if they had chosen to but it seems to me to be a silly distinction that removal of life support is any different than giving a fatal injection other than likely far more suffering in letting someone starve to death or suffocate.  Its like if I threw someone out of a plane and then argued, “I didn’t kill them, gravity did”.

    Doctors do take life every day and the sooner we recognise this and legislate for the bloody obvious need to do so the better.

  37. Mr Nicklinson’s plight is truly the stuff of nightmares. The possibility that such a torturous fate could befall myself has filled me with a quiet terror since reading about his case yesterday. And yet, nonetheless, I believe the judgement to be the correct one.

    The judges are dealing not with some arcane or long-unenforced piece of mere common law. Were that the case then I would have no hesitation in condemning their judgement. Instead they are up against a crystal clear, very certain and still-enforced Parliamentary statute in the form of the Suicide Act 1961. This law – not particularly old by legislative standards – makes it a criminal offence for someone to assist, in any way whatsoever, the suicide of another person. Crucially, it provides for no exemptions.

    Yes, judges have a ‘legislative’ capacity, but only in matters of common/case law.  But for judges to contradict such an unambiguous decree of Parliament would create little short of a constitutional crisis. When, in this case, the judges talk about the lack of precedent, this is what they are really getting at: That there is no precedent for the judiciary to overrule a ‘live’ Act of Parliament, especially on such an important matter… Literally one of life and death.

    So let’s harness our outrage and direct it at the right people – our feeble politicians – and redouble our efforts to have Parliament – and not judges – amend the Suicide Act 1961 so that everyone who demands it has the right to a dignified death, irrespective of whether they are physically capable of carrying out the final act themselves.

  38. I don’t know, but if induced coma is an option, why should death be on the table at
    all? Forget about legal and religious objections. The tragedy would be even
    worse if this man gets to die, only for science to find a cure for his
    condition a few years later. Nicklinson says life would be worth living if he
    was able to speak and have proper conversations. That’s not that far-fetched.
    Scientists are working on brain implants that will let people like this “talk”
    normally. The problem with unhappy people killing themselves is they kill their
    potential future happier selves at the same time.

  39. Skimble and Virgin Mary are correct, and I find it disappointing that Richard seems to have missed the point. While it is true that courts set precedents, the days of their role being beyond that of interpretation have long passed; indeed there are only a handful of common law offences still not on the books. The idea that the court should usurp the role of parliament, or even make an emotional (rather than legal) judgment to force the hand of parliament, is itself is highly problematic and flies in the face of democracy and the rule of law.

    In any event legislating on the issue, even if we had a perfect atheist utopia, would still be complex and controversial. We would all say that there is no significant harm, or moral wrong, in a ‘helper’ assisting a ‘decider’ in Mr Tomlinson’s circumstances to kill themselves.  However in the real world  such assistance would amount to the current offence of murder.  Drafting a law to exclude that person from criminal wrongdoing while preventing and penalising murder is extremely difficult.

    Would health be part of a suggested right to die law? Do we allow helpers to kill physically fit deciders? What about moderately disabled deciders? What about seriously disabled people? Would that still hold true whatever the prognosis? 

    Then there is the mental element of the decider – at one end of the scale a someone who has taken advice from family, friends, professionals and has expressed over significant timescales his desire to die, at the other end a snap judgment on a particularly low day, or someone who expresses a wish during relatively brief periods of depression interspersed with long periods of positive outlook? Would your view change if the decider said, during the positive periods, he did not wish to be killed if he asks for it is a ‘bad’ patch? 

    Whatever the tests no doubt medical or other professionals would be needed to evidence it. But that doesn’t end the legislative difficulties. No doubt a some definition of the qualifications would be needed, itself a matter of serious debate, but then what is the person signing the bottom of the ‘fit to decide’ form ends up as a beneficiary in the will, or is generously compensated by the beneficiary?

    We’d hope for a reasoned decision, but what if based on unreason? What if the family repeatedly tell the decider what a burden on them he is? What if the decider was clear he was motivated by a desire to save his family’s money rather than a strong desire to end his life? Are we happy with that motivation? 

    All these (and no doubt many more) would need to be considered and potentially covered by the legislation. What about burden of proof? would the helper have to prove he was within an exemption to murder (which means he could end up in prison for life if he fails to prove that the decider has properly met every test set out in legislation) or would the state have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that any murder wasn’t a properly assisted killing?

    Finally there is the finality of the result. People will kill, and people will die. There will be no room to compensate for errors or correct mistakes. Do it wrong and helpers end up serving life, or those that we really should have protected will end up dead. 

    I’m yet to be persuaded that a practical and safe legal framework can be put in place. 

  40. i’m not part of these guy’s family but i’m sure i’d just say, “stuff it”, and make that trip to switzerland, and then deal with any consequences on getting back home:  my spending time, even the rest of my time, could never be as bad as it is for people to suffer in the way they do.

  41. To be fair to the Court for a moment, courts are in a difficult position in these sorts of cases – they aren’t elected and they are acutely vulnerable to charges of “judicial activism”.  Their legitimacy is dependent on them having a reputation for being “above the fray” of politics and they are very careful to avoid the soiled reputation of politicised institutions like the US Supreme Court.  For that reason courts are (or should be) extremely conserveative (with a small “c”) in these matters.  I am certainly in favour of assited dying and if I were a legislator I’d vote of it in an instant – hell, I’d be one of the Bill’s sponsors!  But if I were ever appointed as a judge (as unlikely as that is for a mediocre jobbing barrister like me) I’d be *very* cautious about making such a decision without a pretty iron-clad legal argument grounded in the existing authorities.  My best guess (having only skim-read the arguments) is that I’d produce a judgment to the effect that, while I would personally be in favour of legislation allowing these guys to be helped to die, I could not honestly find a way to say that doing so is legal on the law as it currently stands.

  42. Here in BC Canada the anti-euthanasia law was overturned on the grounds it discriminates unfairly against the disabled. Healthy people people can kill themselves any time they please, but disabled people often cannot.  The federal government is appealing. 

    I oppose it on the grounds the opposition is religious and based on religious superstition.  Freedom of religion should protect me from the people who want to keep me alive, and torture me indefinitely. They have no right to impose their religious superstitions on me.

    Those tormenting those two men deserve a fate unimaginably horrible, or perhaps just to be put in their shoes for a few months.

  43. As a veterinarian, if I allowed an animal to suffer like this and failed to put it out of its misery, I would be hauled in front of the Vet Council and severely disciplined. Possibly even struck off the register. I cannot understand the position of doctors who are against euthanasia. It is an illogical and immoral position to hold.

  44. Its my opinion that if you are conscious enough to think you need to die then you are too conscious to die. I am not in love with this idea and I could change my mind, but it seems logical to me; because where does it end? If some one has cancer and wants to die do you kill him/her or if there clinically depressed? Comma victims with slim chance of recovery is a different story.

  45. Steve Zara – Unfortunately I suspect that medically-induced coma would be even more fraught with difficulties. There is a fine line between rendering someone unconscious and rendering them dead, though in a healthy individual with standard drugs the absolute mortality of inducing general anaesthesia is very low. If you are to render them fully unaware you would need to be able to control their breathing and have a means for protecting their lungs from e.g. involuntary vomiting of stomach contents as they would be unlikely to have an intact cough reflex. If one aims to heavily sedate them so their perception of discomfort is removed but they maintain some autonomic control of their bodily functions, they would still require close monitoring to make sure they didn’t start to wake up or drop their blood pressure to dangerous levels etc.

    The technicalities of anaesthesia aside, there is also the issue of (legal) duty of care: who would be responsible for looking after them and their ongoing bodily needs? For example, supervising feeding by whatever means (e.g. liquid food via a tube directly into the stomach – exclusive total parenteral nutrition aka ‘drip feeding’ is far from optimal in the long term), turning them every few hours to avoid pressure sores, manage infections and muscle wasting caused by long-term immobility? I suppose if they were already immobile and dependent this could be considered a continuation of their usual needs but currently this sort of care (in the UK at least) would take place on an intensive care or high-dependency unit with a single nurse assigned entirely to them. If something went wrong, would it be the responsible physician’s fault if an induced coma was not something that was completely ‘medically’ indicated in the first place? I realise that this could be seen as a poor argument since alleviating suffering is indeed an appropriate medical indication. Sketchy mentions below that future treatments might be found, but would the person or family be willing to take this risk in the meantime? So, to hark back to my medical ethics lectures: Beneficence – high. Non-maleficence – potentially very reasonable. Autonomy – definitely, if it’s what they want. Justice – sticky: the resources needed would be great, in terms of available facilities, equipment and skilled personnel. This is part of the reason that an intensive care stay runs to £800-£2000 per day. Beds are always in demand for those acutely unwell and with the (definite) potential to recover so one so it could be argued they would have more to gain.

    Reckless Monkey – In partial answer to your question morphine, in addition to having pain-killing, sedative and respiratory depressant effects (i.e. making you breath more slowly than would otherwise be natural), it has the effect of reducing one’s perception of breathlessness. This leads to the almost-cliché A&E scenario of the unconscious, barely-breathing druggie being brought in unresponsive and being given the antidote (Naloxone for opiates), whereupon he jumps up and berates you in loud, colourful language for ruining his expensive high…. Also, hypoventilation causes carbon dioxide to build up. It is this that causes the awful and intense need gasp when you force yourself to hold your breath. At high levels carbon dioxide can have a narcotic effect. Those patient with chronic obstructive airways disease can lose their carbon dioxide-based drive to inhale and come to depend on sensing low oxygen levels instead. I have seen a few of these individuals sent into a state of, if not merriment, euphoria by overzealous oxygen use and they should be feeling like they’re suffocating by anyone else’s physiological standards.

    Nonetheless, certainly as long as I have been practising, there are very definite standards for  control of unpleasant symptoms in adults and children. For example, the Liverpool Care Pathway for the Dying – LCP – (just with regard to the medications) considers the use of morphine for pain and breathlessness, midazolam (a benzodiazepine) for anxiety and agitation, other drugs for combating excessive secretions and the feeling of nausea or vomiting in those that cannot swallow. It goes without saying that if there is further discomfort, we will treat it, even if the drug used might shorten absolute lifespan (the LCP assumes they are truly dying). I would not necessarily remove oxygen if it was helping. If they were at the point of breathing spontaneously so poorly that it was making no difference to their oxygen levels, it would be appropriate to remove it as unnecessary. Those in the final stages of dying may gasp greatly in an effort to breath – this is a spinal reflex causing massive contraction of the chest wall muscles which only happens once the brainstem is sufficiently starved of oxygen as to become overridden i.e. they really are totally unconscious by this point.

    I truly hope that your friend’s mother did pass away without suffering. You’re right that the distinction between removing life-sustaining treatment and doing something that actively hastens death can sometimes be rather artificial but I sincerely hope that whatever action is taken, it will be in accordance with the wishes of the individual as far as is practically possible. Shrinking_Dogma mentions the problem of legislating for all eventualities regarding wishes, consent and even potential coercion. Currently, to treat or not is the decision of the responsible doctor, which can be a blessing or a curse depending on how much the patient’s or family’s expectations differ from the medical or each others. And you are always entitled to a second opinion.

    I’m afraid I don’t quite get what you mean in your last line about doctors taking life and ‘legislating for the bloody obvious’. If you are suggesting some protection for doctors who would otherwise be charged with murder, I quite agree! Would you clarify please?

    Docjitters
    (Long-time lurker – apologies for the long post & any stating the obvious – finally feel able to contribute!)

  46. Not convinced by any of your arguments; mostly they consider the ‘others’, not the sufferer. Which is typical of the religious viewpoint. 
    “Drafting a law to exclude that person from criminal wrongdoing while preventing and penalising murder is extremely difficult.” An outright lie- yes, a lie; there are many examples where this has been done successfully and you are disingenuous (or unbelievably ignorant) pretending you aren’t aware. Sorry to sound as though I’m attacking you but you must be called on this. 
    Euthanasia proposals always allow for the objections you raise- again, you claim not to know this? Finally, if you are unfortunate enough to be wanting to end your own suffering would you want someone else preventing it??
    Refusing help to people in this awful situation offends their human rights. 

  47. Some anon from the internet should just meet him secretly and help him suicide. No-one will ever know who it was. At least that’s my practical approach. Shame that the law allows people to suffer that way.

  48. There is a degree of hypocrisy in passing the buck to Parliament. This is based on the stated assumption that Parliament expresses the will of the whole population, yet this is not the case, is it? If the will of the people had been expressed, we would probably have had the return of capital punishment long ago, particularly if some juicy murder had been reported shortly before the vote.  Sometimes Parliament – quite rightly – leads.
    The judges may be technically correct in saying the decision is not up to them, but they should not try to claim the moral high ground. Meanwhile, these two poor men suffer.

  49. no, to be fair, at least according to the Catholic faith, if you commit suicide, assisted or not, you go to hell. Not along time ago the church even refused burial ceremonies to suicides; and at least in my country, just about 50 or so years ago suicides could only be burried outside cemeteries, by the fence, like some dogs. 

  50. Moral absolutism leads to moral depravity; those who subscribe to absolutist ideals are often willing to sacrifice their humanity in order to preserve an ideology. They often overrule empathy and any forms of reason. Let’s start seeing these laws for what they are: means of controlling and coercing the individual in order to prolong acute suffering and pain. It’s a shame that such depravity still receives massive support. Most people who get denied their contract of death, usually do end their life, often in painful and terrible ways. Can we really say England is a free country, when things like this are happening?

  51.   -Shrinking_Dogma
    Skimble and Virgin Mary are correct, and I find it disappointing that Richard
    seems to have missed the point. While it is true that courts set precedents, the days of their role being beyond that of interpretation have long passed; indeed there are only a handful of common law offences still not on the books. The idea that the court should usurp the role of parliament, or even make an emotional (rather
    than legal) judgment to force the hand of parliament,

    The mistaken concept all you three are following is the claim “that nobody has the right to decided on their own lives without permission of parliament and the the courts”. 

    What you are supporting is the “states right to unrestricted bureaucratic interference”, in decisions on personal lives. 

    There is no law which says no-one can decide anything without permission from parliament, although there are various theocratic institutions, politicians and legal bodies which would LIKE everyone to have to provide them with paid employment in making personal decisions.  (It took years to kick such people out of institutionalised abuse of gays and monopolising marriage)

    It would be a good idea for professional medical bodies to set up some ethical guidelines, as veterinary bodies have done, and for states to follow the example of some in the US and Switzerland in producing laws to safeguard the vulnerable.

    This is entirely different from parliament bottling out of responsibility, and dog-in-the-manger obstruction of people trying to deal with real problems of suffering, by a self-serving legal bureaucracy, pandering to theist prejudice and their own commercial interests.  These people are being paid by taxpayers to meddle, while budgets for fighting crime are being cut and cases against criminals are being dropped! –

    Unsurprising – given the reputation in legal circles, of the CPS as comically inept and under-manned on matters of fighting serious crime!

    As in the quote I pasted earlier!  When was anyone last prosecuted for eating mince pies on Xmas day? – http://richarddawkins.net/arti…  The legal brains seem to be able to work on dismissing that obsolete law and declining to prosecute.  Why do they have to butt in on this issue?

  52. “As a veterinarian, if I allowed an animal to suffer like this and failed to put it out of its misery, I would be hauled in front of the Vet Council and severely disciplined. Possibly even struck off the register. I cannot understand the position of doctors who are against euthanasia. It is an illogical and immoral position to hold.”
    Yes, it is speciesism, of course. Humans are granted a radically different moral status from “animals”. Usually this means they get privileges not granted to “animals”. In the present case, it is the other way around.

  53. This tragic case is an example of what happens when the law fails to keep up with medical improvements and we are left with a man at the end of his tether being kept alive by science and the law unwilling or unable to do anything to help him.

  54. I do understand the constitutional point that judges are supposed to interpret the existing law, not make new laws which is the role of parliament. But there is a grey area in constitutional interpretation. This grey area is inhabited by humane conscience, recognising that an existing law may be so cruel, and parliament so derelict in duty, that something approaching direct action in the style of Gandhi or Mandela might be warranted. A doctor who took direct action and granted Tony Nicklinson’s heartfelt wish would probably be jailed for murder. His wife, too, would be at grave risk. But a High Court judge who ruled in Mr Nicklinson’s favour would have committed no crime (even if his judgment was later over-ruled) and his action might very well have the effect of shaming parliament into defying the bishops and changing the law in a direction overwhelmingly favoured by the British people.

  55. One wonders in cases like this if they seek some sympathetic stranger who will slip into his home and give him say 200mg of heroin per injection.
    As Richard says it’s what a caring vet would do.

  56.  
    When was anyone last prosecuted for eating mince pies on Xmas day? 

     

    In that Guardian article you linked to it explains that these laws are regarded as effectively repealed because of the “doctrine of implied repeal”:

     
    The doctrine of implied repeal is a concept in constitutional theory which states that where an Act of Parliament or an Act of Congress conflicts with an earlier one, the later Act takes precedence and the conflicting parts of the earlier Act are repealed (i.e., no longer law). 

    This is not going to apply in the current situation.  The Act being discussed is recent and unlikely to conflict with later legislation. People’s anger would be better aimed at gutless politicians.  They’ve all got email addresses.

    Michael

  57.  Instead they are up against a crystal clear, very certain and still-enforced Parliamentary statute in the form of the Suicide Act 1961. This law – not particularly old by legislative standards – makes it a criminal offence for someone to assist, in any way whatsoever, the suicide of another person. Crucially, it provides for no exemptions.

    Is there flexibility in sentencing ?  If someone did assist a suicide in a situation like this could a judge give say a suspended sentence ?

    Michael

  58. My gran is severely incontinent, has completely lost her marbles, and is a danger to herself and others if left unattended. By my standards she is living a god awful existence and prolonging it is inhumane to say the least; she has also, during her brief periods of lucidity professed a wish to die. Therefore, I am going to take the decision to have her put down. She’s also got several million £££ sat in a bank account which will only be released to me upon her death……

    Do you see where I’m going with this? It is no good a single judge ruling in Mr. Nicklinson’s favour, it MUST be put through parliament so adequate protections can be discussed and put in place.

  59. To me, it’s pretty simple.  It’s not even a question of “should this be allowed” or “should we disallow this” – it’s NONE of the government’s business what a person does with his own life, including a decision to end it.  And it’s CERTAINLY none of OTHER PEOPLE’s business to actively prevent him from exercising his freedom to live — and die — as he pleases.  Do I personally wish he would rather live?  Yes, of course – it’s always sad when a life must end.  But it’s not my decision – it’s his, and it should be his alone.

    The real problem, then, is that someone else would need to do so, and there is nothing in the laws that can assist in this situation.  This is because medical science has evolved so rapidly that we now, uniquely in the history of mankind, have the option to end our lives pain-free.  The ability to end our lives pain-free, with dignity, should be recognized as a basic human right, and treated as such.

    There is one last anticipated objection:  doctors and others may consider it wrong to end even the life of a person whose fully informed choice it is to do so.  Just as I strongly believe it is a person’s right to be assisted in the pain-free ending of their lives, so do I as strongly believe doctors should have the basic right to be free to not take another person’s life.  This too is a freedom that is their right, and it should not be for me or anyone to force their hand.  I do not consider this a problem:  there will always be another who understands the situation and, while perhaps reluctant, will agree to assist.

    Let us hope for that day.

  60.  

    Is there flexibility in sentencing ?  If someone did assist a suicide in
    a situation like this could a judge give say a suspended sentence ?

    The UK situation is prevarication on earlier promises.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D… –

    Debbie Purdy (b. c. 1963) is a British political activist from Bradford, West Yorkshire, with primary progressive multiple sclerosis, notable for her challenge to the law in England and Wales as relates to assisted suicide.[1]
    On 20 September 2009, it was announced that guidelines on assisted
    suicide law will be published by the UK Government. The guidelines for
    England and Wales “come after a legal battle won by Debbie Purdy”, as
    “Law Lords accepted earlier this year that [Purdy] had a right to know
    whether her husband would be prosecuted if he helped her to travel
    abroad to commit suicide
    .

    The basic problem is dithering politicians, obstructive theists, and bureaucratic prats!

    Purdy’s particular concern was to discover what, if any, actions her husband, Omar Puente, takes in assisting her suicide would lead to his prosecution.[1] The penalty for those who “aid, abet, counsel or procure the suicide of another” is a maximum of 14 years.[3]
    No family member of the 92 Britons who have gone abroad for an assisted
    suicide has been prosecuted but some have been charged and have had to
    wait for months before hearing the charges have been dropped.
    [4] Purdy says that if her husband would be exposed to prosecution for helping her travel to Switzerland to a Dignitas clinic to die, she would make the journey sooner whilst she is able to travel unassisted.[5]
    This would save her husband from exposure to the law but also forces
    Purdy to make her decision on dying before she feels it is absolutely
    necessary
    .

    They will twist every-which way to avoid making clear decisions on respecting human rights. 
    This was the point I made in an earlier comment about suicides having to be undertaken earlier than necessary because of uncertainties arising from bureaucratic legal meddling. (http://richarddawkins.net/arti

    The hearing began on October 2, 2008 and was complete soon after. The venue was the High Court of Justice. It proceeded before Lord Justice Scott Baker and Mr Justice Aikens.
    In court the DPP said that Purdy could not be given any reassurance
    that her husband would not be prosecuted as the law was clear that
    assisting suicide is an offence.

    On 10 December 2008 Sky TV broadcast a programme on which a man with motor neurone disease was shown committing suicide with assistance.[6]
    There had also been the UK case of a Mr James who went to Switzerland
    with the aid of his parents after being paralysed whilst playing rugby and the Department of Public Prosecutions determined that to prosecute the parents would be against the public interest.[6] These two events led to the issue of assisted suicide making the first story on the BBC’s Newsnight.
    Purdy appeared to debate the issue and denied that it is society that
    makes disabled people wish to kill themselves and reasserted her belief
    that it is right to be able to seek assistance when one is physically
    incapable of committing suicide oneself.

    So there are precedents that it can be “against the public interest” to prosecute in SOME CASES, when the CPS actually uses some brain-power and respect for sufferers.  Clear ethical guidelines based on the rights of sufferers would be better than legal fudge. 

    As you say: Gutless politicians are a main problem!

  61. Sue Blue makes a very important point here. Taking it further, surely the artificial extension of life in extreme circumstances such as these is a denial of God’s right to take life as He pleases? The arguments of the religious as to the supreme sanctity of human life and their “right” to insist on its extension under any and all circumstances is surely a contradiction of their beliefs in their God(s)?

    It is also a denial of the idea of free will, which, according to Christian beliefs, is supposed to have been granted to people by their God. Denying Tony Nicklinson’s free will in choosing to die surely goes against their God’s wishes?

  62.  
    Virgin Mary

    Do you see where I’m going with this? It is no good a single judge
    ruling in Mr. Nicklinson’s favour, it MUST be put through parliament so
    adequate protections can be discussed and put in place.

    While I agree that some properly thought through system respecting the rights of individuals, to end their suffering and to build in safeguards is needed, this does not appear to have anything to do with the clear-cut Nicklinson’s case.

    Messing about threatening caring relatives and sufferers and then belatedly dropping prosecutions is a ridiculous way to organise this.  Paying public officials, who are neglecting serious responsibilities to make time to do it, is even more ridiculous.

    It is however the classic “the law is an ass” – especially when the law is based on ludicrous theology in the first place.

    As I pointed out on the link re “failure to repeal obsolete laws”, the gutless politicians are too busy with their pet projects and public posturings, to do the job that they are being paid to deal with!  That is up-dating laws to meet the ethical standards of a civilised society! 

    We already have plenty of problems from their earlier bottling-out of regulating banking!

  63. The law is looking at the helper rather than the decider because there is no argument about the decider – it is lawful in this country to commit suicide and to attempt to commit suicide. That question was settled (by parliament) a long time ago.

    The issues that are reform is being sought over is not whether the decider has a right to die, but rather whether a person is acting lawfully in assisting them, either at a preparatory level or going so far as to actively kill them. They are the ones who currently are penalised by prosecution which is the whole issue.

    You say it is a lie to say it is difficult to draft laws excluding criminality? Well it rather depends on whether you want safeguards. Lets just take the law against assisting suicide. The simple solution is to revoke it. Then the doctors could help Mr Nicklinson. But then a person handing a depressed man a noose saying to him ‘you piece of shit, I don’t think you’ve the balls to kill yourself’ before he then kills himself would also not be a crime. Perhaps you think it shouldn’t, but I think even excluding religious opinion you would would that many people would be uncomfortable with this. If you start drawing the line somewhere between Mr Nicklinson’s case and then the problems with how you draw the line and how someone evidences to a court that they were acting on the lawful side of it.

    But unltimately assisting a suicide in whatever circumstances, the decider still killed themselves and if they didn’t want to do it they could stop it.

    Murder is much harder. Whatever you say it is not simple to frame a defence. Why don’t you have a go? Frame it and I’ll ask some questions or put some situations and we can apply it and see how straightfoward it is. You might want to look at the many jurisdictions you claim have laws allowing what in this country is murder – I am no expert but I think most if not all don’t do so – they legalise what in england is assisting a suicide.

    Remember the key here is that it must be sufficiently clear that the helper can do what they need to do knowing in advance that it is not criminal and sufficiently clear that the police and CPS also recognise it wasn’t criminal.It would be no good to say certain issues are to be left for resolution at trial – because very few doctors or friends are going to want to act knowing a murder trial would follow – even if they thought eventually they would be acquited.
     

  64. Thank you for that explanation. The risks matter little when the alternative is death, so it comes down to resources then. That means induced coma for these people should at least be considered, along with all other worthy causes. If it’s not, that’s a problem.

  65. It isn’t a question of right to die (suicide and attempted suicide both being legal), it is a question of how to decriminalise people who help bring about the dead of someone wishing to die, whilst criminalising those who are killing for other reasons or in other circumstances.

    I am not supporting the states right to bureaucratically interfere unless you call the general criminalising the killing of others interference. I am simply pointing out that if we want to criminalise those who help bring about the deaths of others while decriminalising it in other circumstances (which in fact I DO):

    (a) it is not for judges to do on an individual case, in the face of clear statute law
    (b) whether or not particular acts should or should not be criminal given a certain set of facts is a matter for legitimate debate even within the secular community let alone religious loons
    (c) once there is some consensus on (b) – if there ever is – drafting a law to distinguish the criminal and non criminal reflecting what we decide for (b) is far from straightforward – as it would have to include not just what circumstances allow killing but how to prove those circumstances, what evidence is needed, where the evidential burden and legal burdens lie, and what the standard of proof would need to be, matters which cause great debate with things as straightfoward as self defence or drive with excess alcohol!
    (d) when making mistakes in this where deaths are concerned there is no ability to correct mistakes and therefore the legislation has to be particularly carefully considered and drafted
    (e) it needs to be sufficiently certain that when helpers act completely legitimately they can be confident of avoiding prosecution (rather than having to go through a trial) while robust enough to ensure illegitimate actions are still criminalised.

    Your final point is in effect don’t change the law but leave it to discretion (which is why those obsolete laws aren’t used) - that is fine and I’m sure in practice it is what happens quite a lot anyway behind the scenes. It isn’t, however, what Mr Nicklinson and Martin wanted in the case, for obvious reasons. They wanted some certainty so that they were confident of getting the assitance they needed when the time came and not that it would be up to the police and DPP after the killing. Without that certainly finding  someone willing to help them is likely to be very difficult indeed.

  66. Richard, while I appreciate the sentiment, and I am very sympathetic (I would say no ethical wrong would be done by someone helping Mr Nicklinson and Martin on what I have read and heard), I see you do recognise the constitutional point, and it is very important.

    Suggesting judges make decisions contrary to parliament whenever there is a clear public majority so to do is a terrible principle. No harm done in the case of Nicklinson and Martin given my own opinion of their particular circumstances, and the common view expressed on this site. But the principle could be used, for example, to promote execution (I’m always horrified to find a public majority in favour of this in the UK), or abroad it could be used narrowing free speech, preventing religous offence where otherwise lawful, or preventing flag burning in countries where the act is lawful but unpopular.

  67. I think it all comes down to ludicrous idea of ‘the sanctity of life’.  That human life is somehow ‘sacred’ and that it should be preserved whatever the circumstances and whatever the costs.

    The kind of people who believe this nonsense really need to get their priorities right.  They just don’t seem to understand that there are some situations which are far worse than death, where people are suffering an agonising and intolerable existence and where death is a mercy.

  68. I think it all comes down to ludicrous idea of ‘the sanctity of life’.  That human life is somehow ‘sacred’ and that it should be preserved whatever the circumstances and whatever the costs.

    The kind of people who believe this nonsense really need to get their priorities right.  They just don’t seem to understand that there are some situations which are far worse than death, where people are suffering an agonising and intolerable existence and where death is a mercy.

  69. Hear, hear!

    The judges decided here not to put their heads above the parapet to create a common law possibility of assisted dying. Their reasons are plainly put; they feel it is too significant an issue to be just a part of common law, and Parliament should address it, if the law is to be changed. Others here agree, I see. I wonder if there are any counter examples to this; I mean, cases where far reaching judgements affecting common law have been the vanguard for major change. I know a few judgements of Lord Denning, for example, involved ingenious re-imaginings of law, but as far as I recall these were comparatively minor matters compared to assisted dying. Eric MacDonald, who has long campaigned for assisted dying, does not think that judges need be so timid:

    There is absolutely no reason within the common law that a precedent could not be set, and the precedent, as I suggested yesterday, could have been protected from uncontrolled ramifications by giving Parliament the time and the opportunity to act in respect of issues raised by the judgement. That is precisely what Madam Justice Lynn Smith did in the Carter decision in British Columbia, thus showing that she was much wiser than the judges of the High Court in London. Justice Smith made a limited judgement that Gloria Taylor had legal permission to receive help to die, and gave Parliament a year to adjust the law to reflect the protection of rights that is now being denied to those who are in Gloria Taylor’s situation. What the High Court could have done, and, in my view, should have done, is to have given Tony Nicklinson and AM the relief that they sought, while at the same time putting Parliament on notice that they must bring the law up to date in such a way as adequately to protect the rights of others so situated, whilst at the same time protecting those who might, in the opinion of some, be put at risk by the recognition of such rights to die.

    (http://choiceindying.com/2012/

    Plainly I’m no legal expert, and I dare say there are differences between Canada and the UK, but I wonder how difficult it would have been for the judgement to have been for Tony and ‘Martin’ but hedged with caution, such that, while setting a brave and fitting precedent, it could not be used too liberally. Or (something which Denning did on at least one occasion) if there were a single dissenting judgement of wit and wisdom it could also have heralded a sea change in this emotive area.

    I heard Sir David Bell on Any Questions today say that he did not want to live in a society where doctors were ‘actively assisting in the taking of life’. The implication is, of course, that living in a society where people starve to death, which is the current status quo, moves him insufficiently to change his views. 

    In the end, we are all in danger of having our autonomy withdrawn in any number of ways, so I simply call for empathy for the poor devil. One day it could be me or you.

  70. It has everything to do with Nicklinson’s case. The importance of the word “precedent” should not be neglected.

    Not really! As I pointed out in this recent comment:

    http://richarddawkins.net/arti… -  No family member of the 92 Britons who have gone abroad for an assisted suicide has been prosecuted but some have been charged and have had to wait for months before hearing the charges have been dropped.

    The precedent is that it should never have been brought to court in the first place!

    There had also been the UK case of a Mr James who went to Switzerland
    with the aid of his parents after being paralysed whilst playing rugby and the Department of Public Prosecutions determined that to prosecute the parents would be against the public interest.

    All that is happening is that a dithering parliament and the courts are proving themselves unfit to make decisions on these issues.  There is absolutely no need for the public to pay super-high salaries to judges or prosecutors to turn out perverse judgements and fudged crap!  They are clearly paid to understand “natural justice”, “human rights”, and to use discretion on public interest issues, after looking at case details.

    There will always be bigoted theist ignoramuses who will cause other people serious problems if they are allowed to meddle on the grounds of the dogma of “sanctity of life”.- (as in the case of defending blastocysts from abortion doctors)

    The present system seems to be to make a good living for legal system employees, prolonging suffering, until the victim dies of natural causes while they are still prevaricating! 

    They are an utter obstructive waste of space! Their concept of providing a public service, is to be utterly useless, while obstructively getting in the way of these who are trying to make progress without them.

    The whole thing is a legal charade ! Life support machines are turned off every day!

  71. It may seem trite, given the falsehoods & undeservedly bed reputation of cannabis among some people, but the cases in question give all the more reason to legalise cannabis, along with euthanasia in the case of mercy killing. Why bring up cannabis? Because if you were in such a condition, rather than having a hard-drug which has withdrawals & addiction & mood decrease after the high (alcohol, morphine, Xanax), having cannabis could massively increase wellness. I would want to be highly medicated with cannabis concentrate, at every waking moment, if I were stricken with locked-in, rather than becoming hooked on a wellness-depriving hard-drug… those men deserve copious amounts of cannabis extract to vaporise, all day, but because of an unethical, tyrannical prohibition, such an outcome is unthinkable outside of a few places with, at least somewhat, Progressive cannabis laws & the very idea is laughable in Western culture, unfortunately, because of how morally corrupt the discourse about cannabis has become. I’m sorry if this too much of a tangent, but, come on… we’re discussing the wellness of people in highly disabled conditions, first & foremost.

  72. FYI: In Oregon you CANNOT get a lethal injection. You have to take pills to die. What a joke. So if somebody has Lou Gehrig’s disease or Locked-In Syndrome or whatever, they cannot die because they cannot move. T.S. for them.

    I am also wondering how these guys were able to express their wishes to die if only their eyes could move, unless they had a living will when they could move, or if they have a code with blinking their eyes.

    In any case… well… this is the kind of thing that outraged Dr. Jack Kevorkian. He is a hero of mine for reasons that I could go into for ten years (he did so much more than his euthanasia campaign) but I’ve always told people that if he had more of a Richard Dawkins personality I think he would have been more successful in getting euthanasia legalized. In many ways, he was his own worst enemy. But then again, if he did have a Richard Dawkins personality, all the critics– the same ones who think that Kevorkian literally got off on watching people die– would make comments about how superficially charming sociopaths are. You cannot win with these religious nuts!

    Julie

  73. @Shrinking_Dogma
    It isn’t a question of right to die (suicide and attempted suicide both
    being legal), it is a question of how to decriminalise people who help
    bring about the dead of someone wishing to die, whilst criminalising
    those who are killing for other reasons or in other circumstances.

    I am not supporting the states right to bureaucratically interfere
    unless you call the general criminalising the killing of others
    interference. I am simply pointing out that if we want to criminalise
    those who help bring about the deaths of others while decriminalising it
    in other circumstances (which in fact I DO):

    This simply fails to recognise realities.  Prosecutors and courts decide on plea-bargaining and degrees of culpability all the time in murder, man-slaughter, and robbery cases.  It is not rocket science!

    (a) it is not for judges to do on an individual case, in the face of clear statute law(b) whether or not particular acts should or should not be criminal given a certain set of facts is a matter for legitimate debate even within the secular
    community let alone religious loons

    Again public interest and proportionality are very much for judges consideration.  It is amazing how many serious charges are dropped against offending police of public officials when the establishment finds this convenient or a prosecution embarrassing!

    (c) once there is some consensus
    on (b) – if there ever is – drafting a law to distinguish the criminal
    and non criminal reflecting what we decide for (b) is far from
    straightforward – as it would have to include not just what
    circumstances allow killing but how to prove those circumstances, what
    evidence is needed, where the evidential burden and legal burdens lie,
    and what the standard of proof would need to be,

    The Swiss seem to have provided a reasonable (if less than perfect) working example which others could copy.  Are you saying UK legislators do not even have enough brain to copy a proven working Swiss example!

    matters which cause great debate with things as straightfoward as self defence or drive with excess alcohol!(d) when making mistakes in this where deaths are concerned there is no ability to correct mistakes and therefore the
    legislation has to be particularly carefully considered and drafted

    This is a poor excuse for needless suffering caused by indecision.  In these cases delays and indecision cause real problems.

    (e) it needs to be sufficiently certain that when helpers act completely
    legitimately they can be confident of avoiding prosecution (rather than having to go through a trial) while robust enough to ensure illegitimate actions are still criminalised.

    Of course it does. The Swiss have addressed this. – But not enough to deal with the Nicklinson situation, where assistance is needed if self medication is impossible.

    Your final point is in effect don’t change the law but leave it to
    discretion (which is why those obsolete laws aren’t used) - that is fine
    and I’m sure in practice it is what happens quite a lot anyway behind
    the scenes.

    That is not my point.  The law should be changed.  My point is that the clear-cut Nicklinson case should not be delayed and held to ransom, while dithering politicians and fumbling prosecutors mess about ducking responsibility.

    It isn’t, however, what Mr Nicklinson and Martin wanted in
    the case, for obvious reasons. They wanted some certainty so that they
    were confident of getting the assitance they needed when the time came
    and not that it would be up to the police and DPP after the killing.
    Without that certainly finding  someone willing to help them is likely
    to be very difficult indeed.

    Indeed.  I have already made the point that unfortunate sufferers are having to terminate their lives earlier than necessary while they are still mentally and physically capable of doing so, because busy-body bureaucracy may interfere at a later stage to prevent their plans from coming to fruition at the optimum time.  (Citing mental incapability, the need for assistance  etc)

    It is state imposed “anti-patient-care” with imposed suffering!  It is what useless unaccountable bureaucracies do to throw their weight around!

  74. What you pointed out is of no relevance what so ever, and the rest of your argument is both fatuous and immature.

    Judges uphold the laws of the land, they do not make them.

    As it stands, assisted suicide is a crime so the entire point of the exercise was to find a way within the current legal framework which would absolve any accomplices of potential charges. There was no way to do so thus leaving the judge with no option but to rule against them. It really is that simple.

    Yes, you can put up a moral argument, and yes, you can put up a compassionate defence; but that doesn’t make what you’re asking any more legal. As I said before, the matter needs debating and then laws put in place to protect against abuse…… they’ll also have to find a way to tax the process, too.

    I’m seriously struggling to comprehend how you cannot see the difference in circumstances between throwing the switch and assisting a suicide!

  75. Who are the ‘medical leaders’ mentioned in support of this decision?  I hope I can find a place not too far from where I live that I can get “Oregan-like” immunity when/if I my health gets unbearable.  Anyone here heard of Exit International?, it’s the closest ‘Dignitas’ type organisation in my neck of the woods but not evan close to pulling off any legislative changes since its ROTI bill was overturned swiftly back in 1996-97.

  76. Further to the slightly tangential discussion on alternatives to (or until the law removes the prohibition on) assisting suicide, the problem comes when the alternative isn’t death. The case of Tony and Martin is that they won’t immediately die if standard care is continued. Putting someone in a coma at this point would be avoiding the issue unless you were ‘buying time’ for a definite intervention. Otherwise, what is the point of quality of life if you are not aware of any of it? Of course, if they argue that there is no quality of life, then you’re back at the beginning. If they, for example, require so much medication to remain comfortable that they are effectively rendered unconscious and die without further intervention, so be it. The Doctrine of Double Effect comes in and is permissible legally and ethically. The problem comes that if it were the norm to place such people in medically-induced comas to spare their suffering, you could be directed to maintain their lives artificially (with the attendant wrangling of when to let them go) when they would otherwise have died in comfort. Going the other way, some are so afraid of dying that they demand intervention of this type to delay the inevitable, despite a hopeless situation.

    Toby Saunders’ comment re: cannabis and ‘hard drugs’ is interesting since in a situation involving a person suffering prolonged discomfort of a physical and/or psychological nature amenable to medication, the drugs are suppose to be used appropriately. That they have withdrawal, dependence or addiction potential should not be the primary concern. If being given in appropriate doses for the right indication, these effects could be avoided or managed. Using terms like ‘hard drugs’ and ‘wellness-depriving’ in reference to very useful medications I think betrays part of a general fear of doing or using something which can have potentially distasteful effects in addition to the one that matters – giving the sufferer the life (and end) they find comfortable. Cannabis is not a drug that induces side-effect-free well-being although I have no objection to its use. Synthetic cannabinols already have anti-anxiety and anti-nausea uses and I have seen it work wonders for horrendous chemotherapy-associated vomiting, which can be made all the worse for the anticipation of it. Everything has its place.

    If someone wishes to die and can show (by whatever means) that this is a rational decision they have come to, and that the mental turmoil is (perhaps) the product of knowing there is no projected end to the suffering, a doctor should be able to help them be comfortable. I realise I shy away from actively saying I would help them ‘push the button’ but I probably wouldn’t stop someone else they nominate.

    If it is legalised, the fun will really start if a legal minor, of say 16 years, who is Gillick Competent and intractably, horribly, terminally ill asks to die against the wishes of their parent(s). Not looking forward to seeing this, even if the legal position was cut and dried….

  77. Just a technical point but plea bargaining is not a regular part of courts in England and Wales, and legal degrees of culpability do not exist in English law in the three examples of offences you provide. Anyway as I say the point is the law we want will mean that (except for borderline cases) there will be no need for a court to make a decision on culpability.

    I’ve read (now!) the relevant article in the swiss penal code. If incorporated into English law it would mean to amount to an offence the prosecution would have to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, selfish motivation in assisting a suicide. I am not convinced the majority would be in favour of this law.  Firstly the suicide can be perfectly fit and healthy – and having reviewed the data on ttp://ukpollingreport.co.uk/bl… it seems that people in the UK are sympathetic to those who are unable to practically arrange suicide without assistance rather than those who can. They also have concerns about people who are treatable arranging suicide (perfectly allowable under the swiss code if incorporated). Secondly I imagine many people would feel that someone who maybe knows the suicide, is a beneficiary of his will, who wants to get the money, and then  incites and assists in the suicide, should face some kind of legal action. Well the chances are slim under an English incorporation of swiss law – to prove that a person who knows and presents themselves to be sympathetic to a friend or family member was acting for financial gain rather than for sympathy – to prove that beyond reasonable doubt – would be almost impossible. Much better, I would have thought, for it to be for the defendant to establish he wasn’t acting selfishly. But certainly a point open for debate. It is not clear at all that the swiss law would be acceptable to the UK population.

    The swiss law seems to be effective, but I think it is largely because it is within the Swiss legal system. Having had a browse of their code (which compared to ours is tiny) they no doubt put a lot of weight on the  historical systematic and teleological approaches. English courts would expect a much more defined and detailed system to deal with. So while the swiss have addressed some of the issues (on the face of it effectively) I don’t think it would be possible to just copy their law without copying their legal system, even if (given its relatively liberal approach) it was supported by the British public.

  78. There is flexibility. The court’s powers are discharge to 14 years imprisonment. In cases where there is no question of illegitimate pressure or inappropriate motives (I guess the cases we’d all like to see legalised) I imagine they would not be proceeded with by the DPP or (as the DPP said in their decision not to prosecute the parents of a suicide back in 2008)  they would end up with just a fine or discharge. Just a note to say the unlike almost all other offences the police/CPS require the DPP consent to prosecute assisted suicide, another senior layer of overview and potential discretion. At the lower end of the custody scale sentences of up to a year can be suspended. Longer than that and they have to be immediate custody. Given that the attempted murder of a terminally ill patient by a doctor ended up with only a 12 month sentence, I would imagine that the kind of cases the public generally want legalised, there wouldn’t be an active sentence of custody.

    That is of course if a jury convict!

  79. This has been quoted in a few of the news stories (taken from the Royal College of Physicians of London website):

    Commenting on today’s judgment in the Tony Nicklinson assisted dying case, Professor John Saunders, Chair of the RCP’s Ethics Committee, said:

    ‘The Royal College of Physicians does not support a change in the law on assisted dying. It remains illegal for doctors to intentionally and deliberately terminate the life of someone who is not terminally ill. A survey of RCP fellows and members in 2006 showed that doctors were not in favour of a change in the law to allow them to do this.‘A change in the law would also have severe implications for the way society views disabled people.’

    He appears to be arguing that this is a ‘right to kill’ rather than ‘right to die’ issue with the addition of the slippery slope argument for those who might be considered ‘burdensome’.

    Amusingly, my workplace firewall blocks Exit International’s website under the category ‘Criminal Activity’ :)

  80. Despite the histrionics from the right only 2% of the terminally ill take this option. Prohibitions only make them do it before they can’t do it themselves thus taking away quality time they might have had with their families.

  81. What annoys me is that without medical intervention, these men may not have survived to live this way – don’t the religious see this?  We already ‘play God’ – we save so many lives that otherwise would not have been saved – and they call these ‘miracles’ – when they should be calling them ‘abominations against Gods will’ – because he obviously intended for them to die – else they wouldn’t be in a hospital getting rescued by doctors…

  82. Virgin Mary –
    I’m seriously struggling to comprehend how you cannot see the difference
    in circumstances between throwing the switch and assisting a suicide!

    In the case of those who have some remaining personal physical capability, it is a matter of providing a medicated drink or pill which they self administer.  The video of Terry Pratchett’s death in the Swiss Dignitas Clinic made this clear. The difference between providing medication and pressing a switch is minimal. The effect is the same.

    In US states where the electric chair has been used to execute criminals, the only difference is between switching on and switching off – (apart from the brutality of switching on compared to the humane switching off.)

  83. Hi,
    This might seem trivial in regard to the subject of the article but when you say “(unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any way to bypass the commercial that pops up unbidden)”, that’s not entirely true.
    If you are using firefox you can install add ons that block javasccript until you authorize it ‘or’ not, add-ons like noscript for example.
    On the debate itself, things are going forward (a little) in France. In 2003, a woman with the aid of a doctor helped her son commit suicide. He was tetraplegic blind and mute. She injected him enough potassium chloride so that he became comatose (?) that’s when the doctor did not reanimate her son.
    They were both charged with poisoning with premeditation. Neither were condemned though … they weren’t found guilty.
    That mother’s fight helped the french public become aware of the situation. A law has been passed since then. It doesn’t allow euthanasia but it forbids “futile medical care” and it encourages palliative care.
    The problem that rose from this new law, strangely (for me) comes from the medical personnel who is in general it seems very reluctant to simply help people live a better last few month instead of actively delay death.

  84. @ Marie Euh -
    The problem that rose from this new law, strangely (for me) comes from the medical personnel who is in general it seems very reluctant to simply help people live a better last few month instead of actively delay death.

    I can understand that this is a minefield for medical professionals, with bigoted religious relatives possibly objecting, and claims being made of people changing their minds. (a bit like alleged religious death-bed conversions.)  That is why the unhelpful  muddle needs to be cleared up.

    IMO ;- As with Dignitas, it is probably better to have this assisted suicide as a separate service from regular medical treatment – with referrals on request – as for other specialist services.

    The normal medical issues of pain relief dosage, when to switch off life support, and if resuscitation is appropriate, would continue separately.

  85. I can understand that this is a minefield for medical professionals,
    with bigoted religious relatives possibly objecting, and claims being
    made of people changing their minds. (a bit like alleged religious
    death-bed conversions.)  That is why the unhelpful  muddle needs to be
    cleared up.

    That actually surprised a lot of people here. Nobody expected such a large portion of the medical profession to react this way.  And that helped me realize that our country was not immune to bigotry (wherever it comes from). It was the first time I saw religious people bringing religion in the debate as a serious argument. Which seemed goofy but even more was seeing how some people reacted favorably to that kind of frantic need to control every aspect of others’ life.
    The subject is more or less dormant for now. I suppose it will take another personal drama for the media to cover and wake people up again. Which is very sad in a way.
     
    I hadn’t thought about separate services but it makes a lot of sense.

  86.  There is a huge difference between not keeping someone alive and helping someone die. One being legal, the other being illegal. That is all that matters. The only thing left to debate is why there is no discussion leading to a change of the law as it stands.

  87. My mother died of ALS handling the deteriorating process with much grace. I know that I could not do so and would want to end my life. Knowing that there is no assistance in this type of situation, I would be left to my own means. I can barely even prick my own finger with a needle…

  88. Yes, that’s exactly how Dr. Kevorkian wanted to do it. People who perform euthanasia would be specialists called “obitiatrists.” After the patient was evaluated by a panel of doctors, then they would be sent to an obitiatrist. 

  89. Virgin Mary
    Thereis a huge difference between not keeping someone alive and helping
    someone die. One being legal, the other being illegal. That is all that
    matters

     If laws were that clear cut, people would not be paying high price lawyers and barristers to argue technicalities, and there would be no need for panels of judges with majority votes in high-profile issues .

  90. Marie Euh

    I can understand that this is a minefield for medical professionals, with bigoted religious relatives possibly objecting, and claims being made of people changing their minds. (a bit like alleged religious death-bed conversions.)  That is why the unhelpful  muddle needs to be cleared up.

    That actually surprised a lot of people here. Nobody expected such a large portion of the medical profession to react this way.

    The medical bodies often have to deal with difficult situations, so it should be no surprise that some of them want to duck responsibility and avoid this legal quagmire.

    There is a case with a different twist here, where there is family pressure going against medical advice!

    http://www.jclegalpractice.co…. –
    8/19/2012 3:29:01 PM

    13 – Family of L, a man left in a vegetative state, wage court battle for right to life

    Family and NHS trust disagree over treatment for unidentified man who suffered brain damage after a heart attack The family of a man left in a vegetative state after a heart attack has made an eleventh hour appeal for doctors to do all they can to keep him alive as they await a vital court ruling.Tomorrow, the court of protection in London will be asked to rule in a dispute over whether it is in “the best interests” of the severely brain-damaged man, who is from the Greater Manchester area, to continue to receive life-saving treatment if his condition deteriorates.

    Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust claim it is not in the best interests to offer the man, known only as L, ventilation or resuscitation if his condition worsens and he suffers “a life-threatening event”, such as another heart attack.

    But his family disagree and say they, not the trust, must be given the right to decide on his care.”L’s wife and other family members believe that it is too early to give up and hope that his condition will improve,” said Helen Lewis, a specialist in clinical negligence at Manchester law firm Pannone, who is representing the family. “It has been less than five weeks since L developed brain damage following a cardiac arrest and the family want to ensure that he is given all possible life-saving medical treatment.

    “They want to be fully involved in the decision-making process so proper regard can be given to how L lived his life and what they believe he would have wanted”.

    Debra Powell, appearing for the trust, said it was unclear how long L could be expected to live, adding that it could be months or even longer.

    Mr Justice Ryder, the judge hearing the initial case, described L as a vulnerable adult who lacked the capacity to make decisions about his treatment.

    “L’s family do not agree with the trust’s position and wish all possible life-saving medical care to be provided,” Ryder said, adding that because the case raises important issues “of serious medical treatment” it should be heard in public. However, court orders prevent the identification of L, his family members, the hospital treating him and clinicians looking after him.

    The trust had sought an interim declaration from the courts that it was not in L’s best interests to receive life-saving treatment if it became necessary before tomorrow’s hearing. But an agreement was reached that clinicians would attempt to resuscitate L and use ventilation if required, pending a ruling in the courts. Legal experts are drawing comparisons between L’s case, hingeing on his family’s appeal for his right to life, and that brought by Locked-in syndrome sufferer Tony Nicklinson, who last week lost his high court battle for the legal right to end his life when he chooses.

    A second victim of Locked-in syndrome, referred to as “Martin”, 47, who could not be identified, said through his lawyers that he felt “even more frustrated and angry” after losing his challenge to the legal ban.

    Three judges referred to the “terrible predicament” of the two men and described their cases as “deeply moving and tragic”. The ruling in L’s case is expected on Tuesday.

  91. I love the fact that law allows us to end the suffering of animals, so long as they are non-human animals, as it is the “humane” thing to do.

    As we have the technology to control a cursor on a screen using only eye movements and brain function, is there not a compassionate programmer/engineer who could create a program to trigger the event of a lethal injection. That way Mr Nicklinson and others like him would be the one causing the action of their own death. To convict one who built such a device as assisting suicide could be argued as being like convicting someone who made or sold rope to someone who ended up hanging themselves. (These are simply my thoughts, I have no legal training.)

  92. I’d just like to point out that in the UK, the BMA and Royal of Physicians do not represent all doctors (and probably only a selection of members were polled) – membership of either is optional, the RCP numbers possibly skewed by the fact one technically requires paid-up RCP membership to use the postnomial credential MRCP even though it is gained through formal examination. Incidentally, the Royal College of Surgeons of England in April 2011 stated to the Commission on Assisted Dying that they did not recognise any circumstances where assisted dying would be acceptable either.
    http://www.commissiononassiste

    Anecdotally, I’ve noticed doctors who are are split into similar camps to say, abortion: Those that agree it is entirely a choice for the individual and would help them actively, those who wouldn’t do it themselves but respect the decision of those who would (and would perhaps, as is currently the case with abortion, refer to a colleague who would consider helping them), and whose who believe that a doctor’s duty is to hold life ‘sacred’ (though not necessarily at all costs – appropriate palliative measures would be standard of care and hopefully no futile prolongation of life would be attempted). I’ve made no distinction here between euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide as frankly I’m not sure of the general level of support for either as separate acts.

    To be fair, I don’t think is about medics ducking responsibility (though all, I suspect, dearly hope to avoid legal quagmires) – it should always be about trying help the patient make an informed decision. I suspect a lot of the distaste would be feeling called upon, with implicit authority, to actively persuade a person that dying is in their own interest. Your suggestion of a separate system of assessors/effectors might help this but could conflict if the medical opinion, e.g. a went against the patient’s request or “obitiatrist’s” assessment.

    The case of L, is a different issue which I touched upon in a previous post: differences of expectation between doctors and family. The law is clear here, hence the legal challenge ahead of time – the treating doctor makes the call. From the snippet given, this man was in cardiac arrest long enough to damage his brain to the point of a continuous vegetative state i.e. he is ‘awake’ but shows no signs of awareness or cognition. This differs from coma in that the lights are on but nobody is home. If he e.g. suffers a further heart attack and needs ventilating, it would bode even less well for his ability to recover neurologically or support himself physiologically if he ‘came back.’ At this point we get to the argument of how long you can wait for ever more unlikely recoveries, whilst escalating the degree and invasiveness of the methods to keep him alive. I have every sympathy for the family but the comparison to Tony Nicklinson is not valid precisely because he was arguing quality of life is what is important, not just being kept alive by the intervention of others.

  93. I’m not sure whether this point has been made, so I’ll make it anyway. Let’s remember:

    Suicide is legal! The question “whose life is it anyway” has been answered, as long as you are able-bodied. You don’t need to apply for permission to commit suicide. And you don’t need to provide reasons. If you are able-bodied, just do it!

    What is special in this case is that he is unable to perform a legal act, and needs help. Any enlightened country would help disabled people achieve legal things that their disability stops them achieving. In nearly all cases, that applies to the UK. But the UK fails the disabled in this case.

    Here is a thought experiment. I understand he can tweet. Suppose someone set up equipment that would kill him if he tweeted a certain code. What are the legal implications? (I suspect they are dreadful). Now …

    Suppose that this equipment has been set up, and you (unwittingly) walk into the room and see it. What would you do? Disable the equipment to prevent him committing this perfectly legal act? 

    I would let him go ahead. I expect most people here would too. But who wouldn’t? Is there anyone here so evil that they would keep a rational person alive against his will?

  94. 16 people actually clicked the ‘like’ button on this comment. Amazing. What part of it did you like? The bit about most nations murdering mentally ill people during war? The bit about most nations murdering criminals who are being pursued? Which nations did you have in mind? Sweden? Denmark? Ireland? Japan? The UK? The US?

  95.   Docjitters –
    The case of L, is a different issue which I touched upon in a previous
    post: differences of expectation between doctors and family. The law is
    clear here, hence the legal challenge ahead of time – the treating
    doctor makes the call.

    It seems there is a different basis for the family view than a difference view of medical opinion.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/engl

    Brain injury man ‘smelt perfume’

    A family battling a hospital trust over whether their seriously
    ill relative should be revived claim he sniffed a perfume from Mecca.

    Muslim man’s right-to-life battle

  96. Um, really? Looking at the BBC article (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-e… it looks like family think he can react sometimes, whilst the doctors and the independent intensive care physician instructed to review by the court think it unlikely. A vegetative state doesn’t preclude someone (or the ‘body’ if I’m being blunt) ‘doing’ something but their description in the face of apparently unconvincing video evidence does sound rather like wishful thinking.

    I don’t disagree with the family seeking a second opinion. According to Islamic medical law, if the diagnosis is not terminal everything should be done to effect recovery (http://jima.imana.org/article/…, hence the statement saying he would’t have wanted a Do Not Attempt Resuscitation order to cover all eventualities. However, if treatment is thought to be futile it is permissible to palliate. This isn’t about a DNAR though. His doctors say they don’t want to escalate to full Intensive Care if, for example, he has his fourth heart attack. Whilst none of us know the exact details, if I had knocked off enough of my heart already to cause severe brain damage and then knocked even more I’m not sure I’d want to be ‘brought back’ with hideous cardiac function and the attendant risk of further brain damage. In the immediate aftermath, he’d have a worse heart, still have severe brain damage and probably be artificially ventilated, which is risky in itself. Not a good way to be in my opinion.

    Apologies to labour the point and the italics. As I said, the DNAR is not technically what the family object to – they are objecting to the law which states there is no right to demand treatment when the physicians think it not in the patient’s best interest. If he remains stable they can continue to hope for a miracle recovery. But if he gets worse, where will they draw the line?

  97. Premise: People are sometimes murdered for inheritance, or because they are inconveniently placed
    Premise: Murderers are generally going to try not to be caught/convicted and a good way of doing that would be to make use of a legal means of killing
    Premise: No system of prevention is perfect
    Premise: An imperfect system if tested often enough will eventually fail
    Conclusion: Sooner or later someone will be murdered under the cover of any system of euthanasia or assisted suicide

    Does that matter?
    These are not extra murders that wouldn’t have happened anyway…
    The only difference is that the culprits would use the law to “get away with it”

    In effect the society that enacts such a law is condoning the occasional murder under the cover of the law as an acceptable price for the legitimate users

    You could argue that from the perspective of the overall society one murder every so often is indeed an acceptable price  for the easing of many peoples suffering
    (I’m assuming here that many more legitimate deaths then succesful murders is probable)
    “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one” as it were.

    But personally I dont like to base moral decisions on science fiction (regardless of its quality)
    And for me, if the price of assisted suicide is even one legal murder, then the price is too high.

    Also, and I cant help thinking about the moral perspective from the point of view of the individual sufferer desiring death
    If you desired you own death, but you also knew that in order for you to legally commit suicide you would have to be ok with someone who doesnt want to die being killed, would you still do it?

    Finally, I know this is an emotive issue but, on a site with the subtitle “foundation for reason and science” 
    I am seeing a surprising  number of appeals to emotional belief creation, from Richard’s first post on down.
    (no, not all of them are)

    p.s. I’m not religous, and am a little disturbed by the prevelant assumption that this is a debate polarised along religous/aetheistic lines

  98. if the price of assisted suicide is even one legal murder, then the price is too high.

    Interesting, that’s the argument I use when facing someone who is in favor of death penalty. No matter that you think certain crimes should be punished by death, the simple fact that you could once execute an innocent is too high a risk to take.
    I’ve been thinking about euthanasia a lot and this particular point is the one I’m having the most trouble with. Actually, I feel like the whole subject goes waaay over my head most of the time.

  99. Maybe this has already been explained (124 comments take a lot of reading!) but for once, Professor Dawkins has missed the main point.  The judgement does not say whether the poor gentleman should or should not be allowed to get doctors to end his life without fear of prosecution, but that such a decisive change in the law is properly the decision of Parliament, not the courts. 

    For those in favour (and I can see why…) they should petition Parliament.  However, no matter how much I sympathise with the poor chap (who has mercily since died,) I, for one, need more convincing that there would be sufficient protection to prevent people thinking they “ought” , in some way, to end their life when they are no longer a “benefit” to society.  So far, I have not seen it.  Yes, it is very tough on some, but it protects others.  So far, I have not seen a viable solution.

  100.  That’s why there would be protection for people from relatives who just want to “bump off Grandma.” That’s how they do it in the Netherlands. There are assiduous controls there. It’s not “death on demand.” Also, you should read Jack Kevorkian’s *Prescription Medicide: the Goodness of Planned Death.* It has an entire outline of what he proposed including safeguards to prevent abuse.

  101. This was an undoubtely a  troubled week for me as my dog was seriously ill and I used my right to have a holiday to take care of her (a female dog), then, when I went back to my  job post, we received the news that during holidays someone that works daily with us died and I saw myself  holding  a  “discussion” with my “chief” as she mentioned that she wouldn´t spend as much money with a dog in cirugical interventions as I do, and among other things because animals don´t have a soul, and she let herself escape “that´s just  it” [the life of the man that just  passed  away -for non-believers like me] . I confess that before the reading  of “The God Delusion” I don´t imagine myself discussing my personal beliefs with anyone as I do, because before no one would even know  whether I was a believer or not and now everyone knows I am not. I became a little a pro- active non-believer (ha ha), that´s what moral philosophers do?I am still  pondering whether I ´ll  make a “hommage” to someone that died (non-believer I think) in a church ceremony or not, just because his wife  and others  are too  religious.So a dog could easily be “killed” (in order not to spend money) and a human has not the right to be assisted to his
    own death when suffering without remedy, because of the concept of the soul, these words escaped from me this week.
    All I have to be grateful is indeed to  the researchers of antibiotics and science, and perhaps to make a homage to someone I don´t think was a believer isn´t exactly going to a church, I am pondering.

  102.  
    Loengaard
    Premise:
    Murderers are generally going to try not to be caught/convicted and a
    good way of doing that would be to make use of a legal means of killingPremise: No system of prevention is perfectPremise: An imperfect system if tested often enough will eventually failConclusion: Sooner or later someone will be murdered under the cover of any system of euthanasia or assisted suicide

    The only difference is that the culprits would use the law to “get away with it”

    In effect the society that enacts such a law is condoning the
    occasional murder under the cover of the law as an acceptable price for
    the legitimate users

    You could argue that from the perspective of the overall society one
    murder every so often is indeed an acceptable price  for the easing of
    many peoples suffering(I’m assuming here that many more legitimate deaths then succesful murders is probable)”the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one” as it were.

    But personally I dont like to base moral decisions on science fiction (regardless of its quality)

    This seems to be a “Nobody must make decisions because humans make mistakes” argument.

    Do you think that no-one gets away with murder in the world using other methods, or that people are not injured of killed by other types of mistake or criminal activity? 

    For example do you think vehicles should be banned because some criminals use them to kill people and make it look like traffic accidents, or hit-and-run drivers sometimes escape?

    Then numerous people have been killed by bad repairs to gas appliances, electrical equipment, vehicles and aircraft. (Or even sabotage)  Should we ban the use of all of these because some innocents could be killed by mistakes or abuses? 

    Your argument is simply a fatalistic ducking of responsibility for making decisions, which is in effect a decision to inflict pain on numerous people by failing to to take responsibility for a proper evaluation of the situation, followed by denying them rights to action as the affected individuals.

    And for me, if the price of assisted suicide is even one legal murder, then the price is too high.

    Some clever murders get away with their crimes, and some institutions get away with abuses!  This is reality.  The world is not going to stop because some people don’t want the responsibility of taking decisions!  What is needed is a reliable system of supervision and accountability.

    Docjitters

    Thank you for an informed thoughtful comment.

  103. I cannot imagine a government “granting” a citizen the “right” to die when the same government is, at the same time, “responsible” for that person’s well-being (such as it may be, and notwithstanding that it may in some instances be quite horribly meagre at best).

    Without taking a side for or against euthenasia, which I can’t because it’s just too easy to see clearly both pro and con sides of the issue at the same time, I can understand that this will probably not be settled soon.

    The government will legalize marijuana before they legalize assisted suicide. And guess when marijuana is going to get legalized… Never, which is just before organized religion will disappear from the face of the earth forever.

  104.  
    margana
    I cannot imagine a government “granting” a citizen the “right” to die when the same government is, at the same time, “responsible” for that person’s well-being (such as it may be, and notwithstanding that it may in some instances be quite horribly meagre at best).

    The Swiss government and certain US states have already done so,  – so research is a better process for discovering facts, than imagining your information!

    http://www.dignitas.ch/index.p

    Without taking a side for or against euthenasia, which I can’t because it’s just too easy to see clearly both pro and con sides of the issue at the same time, I can understand that this will probably not be settled soon.

    Only two sides????  I would have thought there were objectives and regulatory safeguarding issues, of which there are already the functioning examples  mentioned above, and many possible forms of legislation. 
    It does seem rather strange, to claim understanding as a cause of indecision!

    The government will legalize marijuana before they legalize assisted suicide. And guess when marijuana is going to get legalized… Never, which is just before organized religion will disappear from the face of the earth forever.

    Marijuana is already legal in some countries and has been for a very long time.

  105. I see the campaign goes on with one hero gone!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-1

     

    .The wife of Tony Nicklinson, who died last week after losing a legal bid
    to end his life, said she hoped this would not be the end of the
    campaign
    . – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-e

     Jane Nicklinson’s 58-year-old husband had locked-in syndrome after a stroke left him paralysed seven years ago.
    He lost his High Court case to allow doctors to end his life without fear of prosecution on 16 August.

    Mr Nicklinson died from pneumonia at his home in Wiltshire on 22 August after refusing food and fluids.

    ‘Absolute agony’

    Mrs Nicklinson said: “This is certainly not the end of the campaign. I do hope that someone takes it up.”

    Mr Nicklinson, from Melksham, had described his life as a
    “living nightmare” and his wife said the past few years had been “very
    hard”.

    Speaking to the BBC for the
    first time since the death of her husband, she said she felt the legal
    campaign had been worthwhile.

    She said: “Even though we didn’t win – all the hard work for
    the case has been done. I hope at some point, someone will come forward
    and carry on with what Tony started.

    “One of the last things he said to me was ‘I’m already dead – don’t mourn for me’. ” – Jane Nicklinson
    “And it’s true, we did.  I think in some respects, seven years ago was harder than this because we did lose the old Tony.” 

  106. Doctors pledge to help their patients.  If  sometimes the only way is to help them end their lives then they are still fulfilling their oaths to do no harm.  Oh, and by they way, people who may be in such a predicament should make it clear in a legal document in advance that they prefer to “go gentle into that good night” when the suffering becomes too great & the likelihood of recovery is gone.  No sane person wants to end his/her life needlessly.

  107.   http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-e
    Tony Nicklinson’s widow appeals over right-to-die ruling

    The wife of Tony Nicklinson, a man with locked-in syndrome who died a week
    after losing a legal bid to end his life, is to appeal against the ruling.

    Mrs Nicklinson said she would appeal against the decision because “nobody should have to suffer like Tony did”.

     

    I see the family will continue the fight which Tony put so much effort into.  Hopefully they will be able to benefit others.

  108. After the cabinet reshuffle, there is a statement on this from the new Health Minister:-

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-1
    Right-to-die law appalling, says Health Minister Anna Soubry

    People seeking help to die should be allowed to obtain assistance in the UK, a newly-promoted health minister has said.

    Anna Soubry told the Times it was “ridiculous and appalling” that Britons had to “go abroad to end their life”.

    She rejected euthanasia, but said “you have a right to kill yourself”.

    The Department of Health said the views were Ms Soubry’s own, and the Ministry of Justice said there were no plans for the government to change the law.

    It was a matter for Parliament to decide, the justice ministry added.

    Ms Soubry, who was appointed a health minister in a reshuffle earlier this week, called for greater “honesty” over when people would be prosecuted over helping someone to die.

    The Conservative MP for Broxtowe told the Times: “I think
    it’s ridiculous and appalling that people have to go abroad to end their life instead of being able to end their life at home.

    It does however, appear only to be lip-service, as there are no actual plans to DO  anything about the problem.

  109. What if the guy says “hey, pal, can you give me a hand here, I have locked-in-syndrome, and I really feel like having a cigarette, ya know, just to relax a bit.” Is the guy allowed to do it? Smoking also kills, just more slowly.

  110. I agree that this is truly awful and that we need to get the law corrected. As with any major change, this will take effort and persistence from all of us.

    I do not agree that this can fairly be blamed on religion. Fifty years ago, when religion had a much stronger grip than it does now, the medical profession had a maxim:

    Thou shallt  not kill, but needst not strive
    Officiously to keep alive

  111. When I was diagnosed with HIV, back in 1987, it was considered a rapid death sentence. I was terrified  I would be forced to live despite extreme discomfort (mega-nausea — the symptom that lead to the diagnosis). I was assured that even though help was illegal, it would just sort of happen, by various look-the-other-way conventions. The key was keeping a low profile.

    I really did not like that.  Such a system is dishonest and invites abuse.  It struck me that people who were very concerned about people being euthanised without consent should support my crusade to legalise it, where there would be formal safeguards. Not so.  I think religious people are far more concerned with the formal condemnation of euthanasia than the prevention of its abuse or reducing its frequency.

    When my friend David Lewis was in the last stages of AIDs he held a sort of party to say goodbye to everyone, and then died in a grey area sort of way.

    He was not a religious person at all, but just before he died he asked me to brief him on all the after-death myths I was familiar with.  I guess he wanted to be prepared, just in case. I write about the event on my website under human rights.

    Most people when confronting someone who says they will commit suicide soon, tries frantically to talk them out of it. I get them to review the advantages and disadvantages, adding some others they have overlooked. Then I say, only you can weight all this based on your own experience and values.  I support you either way.  Just think it through. Don’t do anything rash. Suicide is often a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Procrastinating the decision is often one of your options.

    I think my approach works better. They feel understood. I induce calm reflection.  Staying alive is not necessarily the best outcome.

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