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Sunday 11 October 2009

UK gay man facing jail for helping ill partner to die

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 10th July 2009

In the United Kingdom, a gay man may receive a prison sentence because he aided the suicide of his lover... in Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal. Notably, this isn't an HIV/AIDS-related case.

Alan Rees and Raymond Cutkelvin had lived together in North London for nearly three decades, before Ray developed pancreatic cancer. The two men travelled to Switzerland's Dignitas clinic, where Ray received assisted suicide. Because Alan assisted him to travel there, he has now been charged with "aiding, abetting and assisting" suicide, which is allegedly an ''offence" under England's Suicide Act 1961.

It's an absurd state of affairs, and one that might become more prevalent in the future. It's easy to envisage a situation where climate change has shifted the migratory routes of disease vector birds, animals or insects, or killed off their natural predators due to environmental shifts, or aided their relative fertility for the same reason, or encouraged mutations that thrive in the new environments. Consequently, formerly temperate countries may undergo new and previously unknown disease pandemics, which may mean a run on hospital bed occupancy, pharmaceutical supplies, equipment wear and tear, staff time and wages and all the other components of modern health economics.

However, while these changed circumstances may well lead to the eventual introduction of legal physician assisted suicide in the western world, Alan Rees is affected now by these anachronistic laws. Given that assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, how can he be committing an 'offence' in assisting his lover to end his life when it occurred well offshore, and not within the territorial limits of the United Kingdom? In previous circumstances, parents and straight couples have been similarly subjected to onerous initial prosecution, only to have their charges effectively quashed at a later date. It is a ridiculous and injurious legality, and one which should be remedied at the earliest possible opportunity.

Unfortunately, it's too much to hope for any imminent repeal to British laws against voluntary euthanasia and physician assisted suicide any time soon. While Gordon Brown has progressive views on women's reproductive freedom and LGBT rights, he doesn't extend this to decriminalisation of assisted suicide. Nor is the Conservative Party amenable to any corresponding law changes.


Nell Frizzell: "Gay man could face jail for helping partner to die" PinkNews: 16.06.09:

Craig Young - 10th July 2009

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