A Private Affair ... on a Legal Muddle, Ranting Historians and the Wretched Rantzen

By Wilby, Peter | New Statesman (1996), August 10, 2009 | Go to article overview

A Private Affair ... on a Legal Muddle, Ranting Historians and the Wretched Rantzen


Wilby, Peter, New Statesman (1996)


The law states that killing is a criminal act, and so is aiding and abetting people who kill themselves. Yet in cases of "assisted suicide" or "mercy killing", those guilty of criminal behaviour are often not prosecuted or, if successfully tried, they escape with a light penalty, such as probation or a suspended jail sentence. Of the 115 (or more) Britons who have consented (or so we hope) to be killed at the Swiss clinic Dignitas, nobody accompanying them, or otherwise assisting them to die, has ever been charged. So the law is a muddle.

Isn't that as it should be?

To become an accessory to murder is a very grave step, and the knowledge that you might face prosecution, and 14 years in jail, compels you to consider carefully whether it is an act you can defend. Most people, therefore, will regulate themselves, considering, for example, if the patient is in his or her right mind and if, in some tiny corner of their own minds, they are influenced by financial gain or relief from the burden of care.

Those closest to the patient are surely best placed to establish whether life has truly become insupportable. If the law is clarified or codified--as the courts have demanded following a case brought by Debbie Purdy, who suffers from multiple sclerosis--bureaucracy and procedure will intrude into what ought to be private, intimate matters. Like 007, some people will have licence to kill, while many to whom life has become intolerable may be barred from leaving it for want of the correct papers. Harriet Harman suggests "a financial vested interest" would lead to prosecution. That would seem to rule out most close relatives from playing any role, which can hardly be what Purdy intended.

It would be old-fashioned and probably chauvinist, too, to dislike Esther Rantzen for having an affair with and marrying a man (the late Desmond Wilcox) who already had a wife and three children, and then talking and writing about their union regardless of the ex-wife's feelings, as though it were one of history's great romances. And I always discount criticism of a woman for being overbearing and pushy, because men get away with that sort of thing all the time.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

So I shall oppose Rantzen's attempt to become an MP on the basis of her policies. At least, I shall do so when I know what they are. 1 have a fair idea from BBC1's Question Time, where she thought it a jolly good idea to ask workers to take "voluntary" pay cuts.

Like most consumer rights campaigners, the wretched Rantzen thinks all problems in life can be resolved by complaining. She has no interest in or understanding of social and economic power relationships, which is what politics is (or should be) about. In that, I am afraid, she represents the spirit of the age. Increasingly, MPs are regarded as consumer advocates or welfare workers, trying to negotiate for their constituents special favours from government departments. …

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