Friday 8 February 2008

suspended sentence for assisting suicide

This time last week the press reported on the sentence given to a man from West Sussex who, reportedly, placed a plastic bag and pillow over his wife’s face after she had taken an overdose of pills. His wife, Mrs Cook, had multiple sclerosis. Mr Cook was given a suspended jail sentence for assisting her suicide “on the ground of diminished responsibility”.

Alison Davis (pictured), the leader of No Less Human, a division of SPUC, wrote to The Times about Mr Cook’s sentence. Alison believes that the underlying reason for the light sentence was that Mrs Cook was disabled, depressed and wanted to die. Since Alison’s letter to The Times has not been published, she suggests that I publish it instead:

“It seems to me that this [kind of sentence] has become the norm when disabled people who are simultaneously depressed are deliberately killed. It is assumed that the disabled person is "right to want to die" and no effort is put into trying to ameliorate the effects of severe depression - something that would be done as a matter of course for people with no obvious disabling condition.

“I have several disabling conditions and use a wheelchair full time. I experience severe spinal pain on a daily basis, and even morphine doesn't always control the pain.

“Twenty years ago, when doctors thought I didn't have long left to live I decided I wanted to die. It was a settled wish that lasted over 10 years. I attempted suicide several times, and had assisted suicide been legal then I would have requested it. Under the rules that apply in Holland, Belgium and Switzerland I would have qualified for it. Failing that, if I could have found someone prepared to "assist" me to die, I would have jumped at the chance.

“It took my friends many years to help me change my mind about wanting to die. I still have the same level of pain now, and my disabling conditions have deteriorated significantly. What has changed is my outlook on life. If assisted suicide had been available to me then,no one would ever have known that the future held something better for me, and that the doctors' prognosis was wrong.

“I suggest that what sick and disabled people like me really need is help and support to live with dignity until we naturally die. Cases such as that of Mr & Mrs Cook only serve to underline a negative view of the value of suffering lives, and create a double standard - non-disabled depressed people are treated, disabled depressed people are killed. This is unfair, unjust and unworthy of a civilised society.”