Three articles on successive pages of The Times last week (5th September 2011) made for an uncomfortable juxtaposition. They were entitled “prosecutors clear the way for assisted suicides“, “MPs given poll warning on abortion” and “jails to help ageing prisoners die with dignity“. They were unrelated issues written by separate journalists but there is a thread which joins them and leads in an ominous direction.
The first article continues the theme of assisted suicide which I have been writing about for the last year. See my earlier blogs:
- Dangerous Road 2 – 24 August 2011
- Dangerous Road – 20 July 2011
It marks another step down a very slippery slope. At least 30 people suspected of helping a friend or relative to commit suicide have been referred to the Crown Prosecution Service, but none have been prosecuted. This has all happened in the last eighteen months, since new guidelines were issued which suggested no prosecution should take place where the act is taken out of compassion by a relative. This follows on from the Debbie Purdy case which I commented on in my blog “Lucy Died Today” dated 22 March 2010. The Director of Public Prosecutions issued 8 pages of guidance aimed at clarifying the position on prosecution whilst continuing to affirm that assisted suicide is still illegal. I doubt many people will read the 8 pages in their contemplation .
The second article about abortion is maybe a history lesson in how the law can be gradually changed by a series of reasonable steps which eventually lead to a point a very long way from the start of the journey. Fifty years ago, abortion was a taboo subject and illegal in the eyes of the law. That led to “back street abortions” and unforgiving attitudes. The sexual revolution of the 1960’s opened the door to a more tolerant attitude to abortion and “medical grounds” became the new criteria of acceptability. In turn those definitions have been widened further to the point of “abortion on demand”. 200,000 abortions were performed in the UK last year and the debate has moved to who should provide counseling. The law as a barrier to abortion, would seem to have disappeared completely.
I am not saying that the early loosening of the law was wrong, just that when laws become guidelines, the boundaries of acceptability become very blurred. Ultimately the law is effectively changed by default, rather than by clear decision. In the intervening years, there is a great deal of anxiety, and case-law is made up as we go along.
You have to wonder whether this is the road we are about to travel with end of life care in relation to “assisted death”.
The third article is about the treatment of the increasing number of older prisoners, who end their lives in jail. It argues for better provision for inmates to cope with increased frailty, poor mobility and memory loss as they grow old. Given that the state is in an inescapable position of responsibility, steps will have to be taken to ensure the Government doesn’t get sued for poor treatment of pensioner prisoners. Let’s hope they are cared for rather better than poor pensioners on the outside who are incarcerated in their own homes or neglected in residential homes and NHS hospitals.
Faced with these three different scenarios, you have to worry in the years ahead how long it will be before a hard pressed Home Secretary joins all the stories together and weaves a very dangerous thread 😦 .