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23 May 2009

Posted by DMC on 23 May 2009 in Diary |

A quiet day at home after all the birthday excitement.

I decided to listen again to a very interesting discussion which it taken place on Radio 4. (Saturday 16 May) in the Unreliable Evidence series – entitled The Law and Death.

The subject matter was of particular interest to me as it dealt with the practicalities, morals and ethics of assisted suicide. Not that I am contemplating doing away with myself in the immediate future but there may well come a time as the disease progresses.

The discussion was led by Clive Anderson (CA) and I have paraphrasing those parts of it which are relevant to me and perhaps to other sufferers who might reach a point in time when they would rather die than continue in their present condition. I should stress that I have transcribed as faithfully as I can what the particular participants said. I have deliberately not put these comments in quotes as, due to my own physical limitations, I find almost impossible to write and therefore may not have recorded precisely every single word correctly.

It was such an interesting and relevant discussion that I was hoping to be able to include it as a permanent Link to this blog but having spoken to the office of the producer of this programme it was explained to me that there are all sorts of complications of copyright etc or with the BBC.

However having said that their kind lady from the producers office very kindly offered to send me a CD of the programme and said that it would be perfectly in order for me to copy this to others. Any reader therefore who would like a copy of the full discussion, if they would send me a CD stamped and addressed envelope I will happily burn a copy for them.

My address is Lantern Thatch, Wicken Road, Clavering, Essex CB11 4QT

The participants were Lord Bingham (LB), erstwhile Lord Chief Justice and senior Law Lord; Sir Ken Macdonald QC (KM), past Director of Public Prosecutions: Philip Havers QC (PH), who represented Diane Pretty and Alistair ?, The Official Solicitor (OS).

CA started the discussion by considering what the law said about going to Switzerland, which permits or even encourages assisted suicide.

The panel were specifically invited to consider this issue in relation to the Diane Pretty case and express a view as to the legal authorities on the agonizing decision involved and comment on whether they considered the law needed clarifying on the right to die.

CA reminded us that Diana Pretty had suffered from MND and sought a decision from the DPP to say he would not prosecute her husband if he were to take her to Switzerland for assisted suicide.

PH.
Said the case was not satisfactorily resolved. He thought it a disappointing result as although she could have lawfully committed suicide, had she been able to do so physically, the very disease that led her to want to end her life prevented her from doing so and, as the law made it a criminal offence to assist someone to commit suicide, she was unable to do that which she would otherwise have been able to do. The law let her down.

CA
To KM. If you get your husband, or a relative, to help you, can the DPP say I will not prosecute? But you are reluctant to give that undertaking in advance.

KM
It’s difficult, if not legally impossible, to given immunity from prosecution in advance, which is what I think Mrs Pretty was asking.

Debbie Purdy, in contrast, was asking for clarification about the circumstances in which the discretion would be exercised, one way the other. She had MS and wanted to clarify the suicide law.

There is a two stage test for decision to prosecute cases. The first stage is, is there sufficient evidence to point to a realistic chance of conviction?. If there is, then would such prosecution be in the public interest; and this second stage has always been extremely important.

CA
The first stage does not really apply if someone says it is something that they really wanted to do, i.e go to Switzerland or pass me the pills, etc. – would this be against the law and prosecuted as a criminal offence?

KM
Sometimes, in these cases the evidential stage was not passed and, when it became matter of public interest, as indeed it was in the case of Daniel James (the young rugby player who was severely injured and who wanted to die but was not terminally ill). His parents took him to Switzerland and the DPP office decided it was strongly against public interest to prosecute them.

CA
You are the only prepared to take that decision once facts are I known, i.e not prepared to exercise that discretion in advance.

KM
No. Each case has to be looked at on its own terms. Cases differ widely in circumstances and I think it would be dangerous, and wrong in principle, for the DPP to issue a policy statement in advance that it would not prosecute an entire category of cases. This would be usurping the function of Parliament.

LB
The law should accord with public opinion so far as can be achieved as to where the line should be drawn.

CA
In 1961 suicide was no longer illegal. Nobody could be prosecuted for helping someone to take their life.(CHECK THIS!!)

LB
What the law has to try to achieve is something between a person’s right to do as they wish with their own life and the other view that life is God given and therefore cannot be taken away.

CA
In the Diana Pretty case she was concerned that she did not want to live out life to the bitter end. She wanted to end it in a way that if it involved other people then they would not be prosecuted. What was your feeling about this case?

LB
The House of Lords (and below) were asked to interpret the European Convention on Human Rights which imports a right to life and the excellent argument ….. do we also have a right not to live? The question was, was that what the Convention meant?

We concluded that was not the case and the European Court agreed with us. That does not mean that the law will remain there forever. Human judgments on these questions develop over time.

PH
I am not surprised we lost but ….our main argument was on Article 8 of the Convention, where the right of self-determination is found. The Strasbourg court agreed that Article 8 protects rights to self autonomy and that’s the right which pretty well supports the view that there should be a rule which does not prevent others from assisting you to commit suicide. Where the European Court disagreed with us was in saying that a state is justified in having a law which prevented others from assisting you to commit suicide. That was a reasonable state of affairs for the European Court to take.

CA
For general considerations preserving people from undue pressure and things like that.

PH
Exactly, and that’s where circumstances may change in the future.

In fact, if you take opinion polls they have consistently, and over a number of years, been consistently in support of a change in the law which will permit assisted suicide under very strictly controlled circumstances with plenty of protective measures for those who were seeking assistance, so as to ensure that no one was put under undue pressure.

CA
It’s an odd situation where someone can be prosecuted for assisting someone for something which is no longer a crime plus this option that you can go to another country. Is it okay to help someone to go aboard when you know full well to go to Switzerland is for death?

PH
This shows the law is in a mess. The financial option is not a available to everyone nor indeed do people wish to die in unfamiliar surroundings without their family.

LB
English law does not meet public opinion. It may be reaching a point where the law needs overhauling.

KM
I cannot detect any parliamentary enthusiasm for changing the law. Last time it was debated it was defeated overwhelmingly.

When I was DPP we had 90/95 such cases and we did not prosecute one of them .. on public interest grounds.

Even if the law was changed people would still have to go through a police investigation as in all cases of death there has to be some sort of investigation. For example, in the Daniel James case no law would protect the parents because in his case he was not terminally ill.

The above represents around one third of this discussion programme and I would strongly advise the reader to listen to the entire debate (see above for access to CD) particularly as, in paraphrasing what the participants said I may have inadvertently put a slightly different slant on what they were trying to get over.

In summary it seems to me that the participant’s view was that public opinion seems strongly in favour of a change in the law but the legislature seems to have no stomach for it.

The rest of the debate was dedicated to such matters as abortion, mercy killings and euthanasia none of which, I hope, are relevant in my case.

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3 June 2009

Posted by DMC on 3 June 2009 in Diary |

The House Of Lords today rejected Dianne Pretty’s appeal for immunity from prosecution for persons assisting a suicide.

In summary, from a long and important judgment, Lord Bingham held that ‘ Mrs Pretty cannot establish any breach of any convention right’. (Lords Steyn and Hope concurring)

I would suggest that anyone who is sufficiently interested should read this judgment for themselves, which can be found at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200102/ldjudgmt/jd011129/pretty-1.htm

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26 July 2009

Posted by DMC on 26 July 2009 in Diary |

The question of assisted suicide and has raised its head again following the death of the conductor Sir Edward Downes and his wife’s mutual suicide, last week in Switzerland at Dignitas.

The British Council of Nurses, were virtually split down the middle, over the issue with 49% voting in favour of some sort of assistance within rigid guidelines. As a result of the BCN and decided to take a neutral stand on the issue — neither for nor against. The BMA on the other hand is implacably opposed.

It seems that the general opinion in the country is that there are around 75% in favour of assisted suicide in cases of severely diminished quality of life through sickness or terminal illness. It will be interesting to see the House Of Lords judgment in the Purdy case, due to be laid down, I believe, next week. I seem to recall that Mr. Purdy has MS and Mrs. P is seeking immunity from prosecution for assisting him to an early death, presumably to avoid further suffering.

Indeed, recent radio commentaries I have listened to have confirmed that no one to date has been prosecuted for assisting someone to commit suicide, despite the law making it a criminal offence which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.

(I covered this question of assisted suicide earlier in my diary, when the House of Lords decided on the Diana Pretty case – see 23 May 2009 entry)

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31 July 2009

Posted by DMC on 31 July 2009 in Diary |

The House of Lords have now given their judgment on the Purdy case where Mrs. P was seeking assurance that her husband would not be prosecuted if he assisted her suicide when the MS, from which she is suffering, becomes intolerable. Not unsurprisingly the Lords did not give such an undertaking, however, they did say that guidelines would be set down for such cases. These can be expected around September, so I suppose, in some respects, this is be can count this as a victory for the Purdys. Undoubtedly the mood of the country, and indeed the judicature, seems to be towards some sort of immunity from prosecution in strictly limited cases.  Watch this space.

On a more mundane level I went to Addenbrookes Hospital today be fitted with some rigid wrist supports. The occupational therapist made them there and then but I think they are going to take some getting used to. They are rather uncomfortable to wear and most of the time I can manage without them.

The great excitement about this particular visit, however, was that I picked up the feeding frame. I think we have got it pretty well right now and I shall try to out myself for the next week or so before attempting to trial it in hospital or a care home.

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21 September 2009

Posted by DMC on 21 September 2009 in Diary |

The City Branch of the Arbitration Club lunch today. This one at the offices of Clifford Chance’s in Bishopsgate, so not too far to travel from Liverpool Street Station. Although I enjoy these lunches I am not sorry that this present round is coming to an end as they are not doing much good to my waistline.

Today the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) published guidelines on Assisted Suicide. These are for consultation only, at this stage, and are expected be published around the end of the year. Although I have not seen these guidelines myself I gather the gist of them is that a person who assists another to commit suicide who it is, for example terminally ill or in great pain, is unlikely to be prosecuted. There will be clear protection built in for the vulnerable elderly and mentally ill. Public opinion seems to be strongly in favour of such new legislation or guidelines.

Today, in recognition of the success of this blog (around 65,000 hits to-date) I dropped ‘MND’ from the title, shortening it to ‘Dying to Live’.

This is because the blog has obviously appealed to people far beyond those suffering from MND and I would like to think that it would help anyone who is terminally ill, suffering from a long-term illness, or just depressed. Perhaps the anecdotes or the jokes might momentarily cheer them up. To this end I have added a P.S. to the introduction to this blog and, as I doubt whether people will read this introduction more than once, I’ve decided to repeat it in the content of today’s entry. What I’ve also suggested is that if people find this blog supportive in any way, either as a patient or as a carer, then why not pass it on to their own group of friends in the hope that someone, somewhere may benefit from it.

To lighten things up after this serious note I have added two new jokes – The Bounced Cheque and The Loving Husband.

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27 January 2010

Posted by DMC on 27 January 2010 in Diary |

I had my lycra gloves fitted at  Addenbrookes Hospital today. My initial impression is that whilst  giving  a certain amount of support to the wrist, at least, the downside is that they restricts what little grasp I have left. In other words,  it is more difficult for me to curl my fingers towards the palm. However, what the gloves do is to straighten out the fingers and I will probably sleep in them for a week or two rather than trying to wear them during the day. I believe it is a well-known medical fact that the more fingers are curled the less likely it is that one can straighten them. So it seems logical to me that if I can stretch them, say over night, in a virtually horizontal position, that could give them a slightly longer useful life, although no one seems to know whether that will actually be the case.

This week has seen two landmark cases in the ‘assisted suicide’ debate.  Kay Gilderdale, who was by all accounts, a devoted mother, assisted her daughter to end her life with tablets and morphine. This, after the sick daughter had attempted suicide and failed. This loving parent could not bear to see her daughter suffer any longer and she walked free from the court with a suspended sentence after being charged with, not just attempted assisted suicide but also  attempted murder.

Compare this with the case of the woman who injected her brain-damaged son with a lethal dose of heroine as she could not bear to think of her son suffering any longer, this despite some encouraging medical prognosis. This devoted mother was sentenced to a minimum of nine years in prison for murder.

These cases have opened up the whole issue of the ‘right to die’ and ‘assisted suicide’.

The reason for the seemingly harsh sentence, handed down by the court for  the mother of the brain-damaged son, was that he was not in a position to indicate that he had an intention to die. These cases together with the more recent cases in the High Court on assisted suicide make it even more imperative for the government to consider a change in the law.

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31 January 2010

Posted by DMC on 31 January 2010 in Diary |

British hopes were shattered today when Andy Murray lost, in three sets, in the final of the Australian Open Tennis Championship against an invincible World Number1, Federer. Murray’s record against Federer is good, 6 wins out of 10 matches but never when it comes to a grand slam Not since 1936 has a Britain won a tennis grand slam but Murray is getting closer all the time.

A BBC survey of over 1000 people found that 73% of them were in favour of assisted suicide in a case where a relative or friend was terminally ill and suffering. However, only 48%, of those surveyed, thought that assisted suicide was acceptable in cases where the patient was not fatally ill even if that person is in severe pain. This survey was a prelude to the BBC Panorama programme, scheduled for Monday night, which will highlight the case of the Kay Gilderdale who assisted her daughter to commit suicide by  injected her  but who  was cleared of a murder charge. (see 27 January entry).

This was followed up by  a radio interview with a mother who had assisted her son, who was suffering from Hodgkinson’s disease, to commit suicide and was not charged. The point being that the son had witnessed his father die of the same disease  when he reached the point when he could not swallow. The son was determined that he would not suffer the same fate and, it appears, from the leniency of the sentence, that the court was sympathetic with the mother’s act of assistance.

I have made my own position clear on this issue. If, and when, my throat is affected, before I reached the point where swallowing, breathing and speaking become difficult, I intend to slip away quietly, hopefully with a decent bottle of Bollinger, a log fire and a good cigar surrounded by my immediate family. With the rate of deterioration in my hands and arms it is also clear that I might need some assistance from a member of the family. I am fairly confident that by that time the law will have changed to permit such assistance without the threat of prosecution.

However, persuading a member of one’s family to provide help for such an act might be a different issue.

It has been my practice throughout this blog after such a serious note to lighten up a little and add some more jokes, anecdotes, etc. So under Jokes you will now find the following: Dirty Old Grandmas; Funny Chain of Title; Health Insurance — Send the Bill to My Brother-In-Law; If You’re over 50, You’ll Think This Is Hilarious!!! and a few more that I have called More Oldies. Under Anecdotes you will find a fascinating catalogue of the quality of the health giving properties of Bananas; a very interesting Aussie view on Global Warming – Myth or Fact. and something described as The Top 10 of Everything, which speaks for itself. All well worthwhile spending a little time looking at. Under Photos you can see yours truly with the famous kilt and smoking stick and two other entries. One for the dog lover, Adopt a Dog and one that should make you realise the important things in life, 45 Lessons in Life. Finally, under Videos the most fantastic time piece you will ever see The Clock to which, I suspect, you will return  many times. To round things off there is another rather rude video involving farting, just so we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

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6 February 2010

Posted by DMC on 6 February 2010 in Diary |

On Saturday night, on Radio Four, the Moral Maze debated the issue of assisted suicide which has been very much in the news recently.

There is no doubt in my mind we are heading for a change in the law which will allow loved ones to assist terminally ill or suffering friends or relation to have a dignified and less painful end.

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27 February 2010

Posted by DMC on 27 February 2010 in Diary |

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has at last published some guidelines on assisted suicide. As a result, the Prime Minister suggests that this clarification under which those who assist someone to kill themselves may be prosecuted means that “the case for a change in the law is now weaker”. In other words the Prime Minister thinks we must resist the call to legalise assisted suicide .The DPP no longer considers that the prospect of prosecution is mitigated if “the victim had a terminal illness, or a severe and incurable physical disability, or a severe degenerative physical condition from which there was no possibility of recovery”. Significantly it seems that the naive assumption that a spouse who assists a suicide would always be acting compassionately has been removed and those who provide a Dignitas-style physical environment for suicide are more likely to be prosecuted. I am not sure how much further forward we are in this process but ultimately, I suppose, the matter will have to be decided by Parliament.

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