Lord Falconer is championing the cause of those who assist the terminally ill with suicide – to my mind a perfectly reasonable cause to give dignity to those who wish to end their lives because of ilness and pain yet who do not wish to bring harm through prosecution to those who assist them. Times
“We are in this awful situation where people who travel with relatives probably won’t be prosecuted, but can’t be sure,” said Falconer. “It means people are going to clinics on their own, or going earlier than they otherwise would, which can’t be right.
“In my view rightly, the DPP has refused to prosecute around 100 people in these cases. The law must be brought in line with actual practice and the change in public views on these issues.”
Inevitably there has been a parade of ex-archbishops and bishops coming forward to argue the point. Lord Carey has joined the ranks of those who wish to block this change in the law and who seem to have missed an elementary philosophical position – the right of an individual to make decisions. Writing today in the News of The World – a paper not noted for a focus on deep philosophical issues – under the screaming headline – Mercy Killers are hijacking the suicide bill Lord Carey argues that an amendment would put the elderly at risk of unscrupulous heirs who wish to do away with their relatives so they can get the money. This may well be the case – but this phenomenon can surely be dealt with by an independent assessor who looks at the evidence and the reality behind a request to die?
For my part if an adult wishes to end his or her life, but is unable to pursue this action alone they should be given the right to do so free of the burden that their partner or family member or friend will be prosecuted. My reasoning is based on a principle that we should have an absolute right – free from religious or philosophical ethics of a bygone age – to determine how we should run our lives and, in this case, our deaths. Even on a Benthamite utilitarian construct, the right to die and enlist the help of another who is prepared to extend love for their friend in this way will give the person who wishes to die greater pleasure to themselves than harm to others and should, accordingly be a right enshrined in law. Of course we must have laws in place to prevent unscrupulous relatives knocking off their rich relatives – but that, surely, is not beyond the ability and will of parliament?
And then we have Jack ‘Hardliner’ Straw, our Lord Chancellor, turning down parole for Ronnie Biggs on the grounds that Ronnie Biggs did not show repentance for his crime and chose to commit another crime by escaping from custody all those years ago. To this Jack ‘The Pirate Hat’ Straw added that Biggs had courted press attention outrageously.
The facts are these. Ronnie Biggs was one of the Great Train Robbery Gang. He coshed the guard. The guard died subsequently. Biggs and his fellow gang members was sentenced to thirty years – a sentence, some say, issued to show that the government and the judiciary were cracking down on organised crime. Biggs did a runner and for many years made a laughing stock out of Plod who chased him around the world and finally to Brazil. Biggs returned to Britain, a sick man, voluntarily and was immediately banged up. Biggs is an old man now and seriously ill. He is unlikely to be a threat to anyone in society apart from himself. He is too frail to even steal a newspaper from the local newsagent, let alone use a cosh or commit robberies. The Parole Board recommended release.
I am baffled by Straw’s decision. In my view – and I am far from alone in this – he has made a poor decision and has diminished himself and the justice system in the process. Prison is not simply about revenge. It is about deterrence and rehabilitation. It is, in so far as it can show this, also about compassion and hope. I can see nothing in this decision of Jack Straw’s other than revenge. It is a decision which leaves a rather unpleasant odour. It is ironic when Straw is falling over himself to tell the judiciary not to jail people and not to be offended when criminals show disrespect to them and the justice system because we haven’t enough prisons and we don’t wish young thugs to feel discrimiated against – that he should now wish to appear to be the ‘Iron Man of Justice’. Straw would be better off listening a bit more to the senior judiciary and other experts on other means of punishment. We have more people in our prisons than any other country in Europe and more lifers, I understand, than the rest of the European Union put together. I won’t even bother to consider today whether half of these people (non violent people) are even in prison. I doubt whether many prisoners show repentance. Straw would be better placed dealing with the rise in serious crime and not pissing about on a pre-election ‘London Palladium’ stage grandstanding. FAIL… as they say in the modern vernacular.
And finally… My favourite pic of the week. A fabulous one fingered salute from a brave woman. I am grateful to Natasha Phillips, a fellow blogger and friend, for putting this picture up on Twitter earlier today. It needs no commentary. Natasha, who is part Persian, is also a serial user of Twitter (@sobk13) and, late at night, is a Twitter DJ using Blip.FM! She also plays a savage and cunning game of Scrabble and is resistant to my puns. I am working on new tactics.