Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Assisted Suicide

The murder charge against Kay Gilderdale for assisting her daughter's suicide has finally been dropped. Panorama did an insightful programme about it, which touched on the recent Lord's Bill and the clarification of the law by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). I find it interesting that such an important Bill started in the House of Lords, which is not democratically elected and carries a religious bias in the form of 26 Bishops of the Church of England. The Church, as far as I am aware, has always been against suicide. That clarification of the law then falls to the DPP, who is appointed by the Attorney General, leads me to suspect that our elected politicians don't have the stomach for such an emotive subject. However, this poll suggests that 73% of people condone Mrs Gilderdale's actions.

For sure, this is a difficult subject and close attention must be paid to protecting vulnerable members of society. But law makers in Oregon, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands have made assisted suicide legal and many other countries have laws that are less stringent than our own (please see this report). This leads me to believe that personal choice and the protection of the vulnerable aren't mutually exclusive concepts.

But this isn't just a moral/legal issue. It is also dependant upon the resources available for palliative care. Given sufficient support the NHS could remove the physical burden from caring relatives and the associated guilt patients may feel in requiring help. In short, this may remove two of the motives that we worry drive assisted suicides.

The poll results, legal cases, media interest and political avoidance suggest that it is a subject that would be well served by Interactive Democracy. Voters may even make suggestions of how to overcome some of the sticking points that the Lords found so difficult to overcome.

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