Following the Purdy case, the Yard writes about assisted suicide. The legal position of relatives who assisted with Swiss death trips was previously in a typically fudgy British grey area: illegal but unprosecuted. The Blind Eye was turned. Now we are apparently being forced to shine some legal light on this dark business.
It seems to me that the problem with the assisted suicide debate is that an unstoppable force of a principle meets an immovable object of an argument:
1) each individual should have the final say over how and when he dies – it is no business of the State.
2) a life must have an objective value beyond the worth accorded to it by the individual at any given time - because otherwise we have no obligation to discourage someone who is merely depressed from committing suicide.
This is another interesting instance of the left-right political distinction breaking down, or becoming counter-intuitive. Those on the Left are generally pro-death because of 1, but pro-universal state healthcare because of 2. Position 1 is libertarian but conservatives tend to be anti-death because of 2.
Terry Pratchett was on BBC Breakfast this morning arguing for assisted suicide, but he was soon struggling as the interviewer ran through the slippery slope arguments. Pratchett talked about how in Victorian times doctors would routinely ‘make people comfortable’, ie. kill them softly. The name ‘Shipman’ wasn't spoken but must surely have leapt to everyone’s lips.
There just isn’t a single argument or great, overriding trump card that can win this one and so it defies clean legislation, every attempt at which appears to make things worse. We had the least bad solution already: the British Fudge, the Blind Eye. This is conservatism, I suppose.