Assisted suicide is wrong. Right?

This is a strong statement. But it remains the law’s stance on the subject.

The term euthanasia is one that sparks great debate amongst society in general. Opinions range from those inclined to disagree with the concept of assisted suicide altogether, to those who believe that in certain circumstances it is a necessary evil.

The plight of people such as Lynn Gilderdale, a young woman who suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, highlights the unspeakable difficulties involved in this area of law. Her mother reluctantly accepted her request to help her to die. Lynn had attempted suicide unsuccessfully before, and her mother obviously knew her and knew that her daughter had made up her mind. It seems a life consigned to bed with severely impaired movement was one Lynn no longer wished to live.

Having helped her daughter to die, Lynn’s mother was then charged and pleaded guilty to the offence of assisted suicide. She was then brought to court again for more serious charge of attempted murder.

Baroness Mary Warnock, a notable philosopher and co-author of ‘Easeful Death: Is there a case for Assisted Dying?’ stated that:

“The thing that seems to be most important of all about this case is this: that it was the jury who, unanimously, and after a very short time, decided to find her not guilty. I think the fact that it was the jury is very important, because the jury represents ordinary people.”

Though the concept of helping someone to die at first seems incomprehensible, it seems in the presence of certain facts such a fundamental belief can be challenged. On the part of that jury at least, empathy prevailed by recognising that one person made a choice to aid another to die with dignity. Such a decision was, it seems, not to be equated with attempted murder.

The law explicitly states that assisted suicide is illegal. But it is clear that the nature of special circumstances, such as those that Lynn was subjected to, leave this area unsettled. A free-thinking individual, who wishes to die but does not have the physical capacity to do so, asks many questions of society’s ethics and morals. The stance of the law when seeking to reflect these standards is likely to continually be challenged. Awareness of the issues and potential justifications behind changing the law is growing as a result of this.

Granted, if voluntary euthanasia was to become lawful in the United Kingdom safeguards would be needed to protect the vulnerable. But as a society perhaps we should not be so quick to dismiss it entirely. Should opinions concerning euthanasia evolve, perhaps it is only a matter of time before the law is asked to do the same.

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