Hazel McHaffie

Coroners and Justice Bill

Media interest

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was away four days last week – no time to keep up to date with the papers. Too busy scattering sheep in darkest Wales, inching through traffic in the tourist mecca that is Devon, and meeting distant relatives at funeral wakes. But trawling through the backlog of news since, I was struck by the frequency with which items related to ethics crop up in the media. No less than eleven new cuttings for my files. Subjects like man-made sperm (hmmm, wasn’t it always a male preserve?), a baby’s life saved using tissue from a cow, a man who seems to collect kidneys – he currently has five in his body, three of them donated … You know the kind of thing.

Assisted dying – the subject of one of my novels, Right to Die – featured strongly. But then, this was the week that Lord Falconer’s proposed amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill came before the House of Lords. Just in case your head’s been under a stone too, it was designed to protect from prosecution those who enable friends or relatives to travel abroad to commit suicide in one of a few countries where the practice is legal.

Result? The amendment was rejected; leaving these vulnerable people technically in limbo. No change there then. But as Lord Falconer himself admits, it’s not obvious that it’ll actually make much difference in real life, because ‘The current situation is that the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) has made it clear that he will not seek out these cases to investigate. If the cases come before him, he will ensure that they are properly investigated and, as long as he is satisfied that there is good motivation, he will not prosecute.’ And really, would it serve the public interest to do so anyway?

If you’re looking for a breath of sanity on this subject why not visit the Journal of Medical Ethics blog. I recommend it.

The six million dollar question though is: should seriously ill patients have to go abroad for help in the first place? Don’t get me started!

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