CROSSING THE RUBICON

Poor Ali Saunders, the much beleaguered Director of Public Prosecutions, damned if you do and damned if you don’t! Still smarting from the verbal spanking she received from many quarters after her decision not to prosecute Lord Janner, along comes Nikki Kenward the organ grinder’s monkey in the assisted suicide debate initiated by Lord Falconer, the former Lord Chancellor.

Ms. Nikki Kenward’s legal team, funded by us the taxpayers, has been granted a judicial review over Ms. Saunders’ decision not to prosecute doctors and nurses who help severely disabled or terminally ill people to take their own lives. Whilst Ms. Kenward is seriously disabled, she was never asked if she would like help in popping her clogs, so quite what she is doing in the frame is a mystery.

On review, these lawyers will argue that the DPP’s guidelines will enable healthcare professionals to offer their services to those wishing to commit suicide which, according to these well meaning but misguided advocates, is akin to “crossing the Rubicon”. With respect as we say but don’t mean in the legal profession, the services on offer are precisely the services most needed in these tragic circumstances. Ms. Kenward may have been put up to stir the pot, but this should in no way detract from  two very important issues, namely the right of any person of sound mind who wants  to end it all to do so but who cannot do so without help, and the courage and dedication of the doctors who will bring it about.

Assisted suicide is but one dimension of a debate that isn’t going away and will become more and more relevant over the next several years. Lord Falconer’s proposal is confined to those with terminal illnesses who have less than six months to live, so it is cast within fairly narrow parameters.  Of equal if not greater relevance is longevity itself.  When to call it a day?  And who calls the shots?  The advances in medical science help to keep us alive longer and longer, regardless of our state of health, and as we grow older and older, we are part of an environment ill equipped to provide us with the quality of life essential to enjoy our twilight years.  The argument that the Lord will decide has only limited appeal in our post Christian society, so some help may be needed to speed us on our way.

For my part, I am comforted in the knowledge that when I enter the final stretch, I can decide when it’s time to go, and to suggest that my nearest and dearest would connive with the medical profession to send me on my way before I am ready is as unattractive as it is implausible.

MERCIFUL RELEASE

The law on assisted suicide is now a complete shambles. Within the space of a week, one woman is convicted of murdering her terminally ill son, and has to serve at least nine years behind bars, the other woman is acquitted of attempted murder, to spontaneous applause, and the judge criticises the Crown Prosecution Service for bringing the charge in the first place. So why didn’t he stop it?

For those who had thought that Keir Starmer, the ‘quiet’ and all but invisible man in charge of the CPS, would shine his light into the dark recesses of the law on assisted suicide, there is a genuine sense of disappointment. His attempts at clarification have been anything but, leaving the CPS and the courts to square the circle and failing miserably.

The problem with this unholy mess is that nobody is willing to stand up and be counted. In the two most recent cases, the grief of caring mothers nursing their terminally ill children cannot be overstated, and yet they, and not the medical profession, must shoulder the burden of mixing the drugs and administering the fatal dose. Where is the qualified doctor when you need him? If recent events are anything to go by, he’s in Germany, in possession of a smattering of English and only three hours sleep. Why can’t they take the lead and actually help, instead of washing their hands?

The CPS also has to take its share of responsibility, and not shift the decision making to the judge and jury. In the case of the woman charged with attempted murder and gloriously acquitted, why didn’t the CPS heed the strictures of the judge? A classic case of buck passing, which simply shouldn’t happen. The responsibility for seeing that justice is done rests in the hands of twelve men and women who have no legal or medical knowledge, and who are as likely as not to reach their verdict with the toss of a coin.

And what about the judge? Another classic case of buck passing. The rules state that if there is a case to answer, then it must be answered by the jury. But there are weak cases which cry out for judicial intervention, so why not intervene? The trial judge was eminently placed to do so, and yet he fudged it. Why? He must have been aware of the criticisms of his learned colleague. In the name of humanity, stand up and be counted!

So this unholy mess is dumped back into the laps of the politicians, who have bigger fish to fry, and in the case of this dying government, plans to make when they are thrown out of office. If ever there was a case for assisted suicide, this government would come high on the wish list of most of the electorate. But with Jack Straw, the Minister for Justice, his silence is underwhelming.