Monday, September 28, 2009

Prioritising euthanasia over child abuse

If you put the lead articles of last Saturday's and today's Dominion Post newspapers side by side, the messages are striking (Saturday:, Monday:

On Saturday, we were told:
Barry Sutch, 68, died eight days after he appeared in Levin District Court charged with being party to a suicide.

The frail Otaki man, who had prostate and bowel cancer and had about 18 months to live, faced a charge relating to two people agreeing to enter a suicide pact in which only one person survived.

His 63-year-old wife, Jean, who was suffering from a debilitating illness, died last October. Police investigated her death, describing it as "unexplained", and charged Mr Sutch several months later.
Both Mr Sutch and his wife were terminally ill.  They decided to end their lives together.  She succeeded.  He did not.  And was charged.  Almost a whole year later, the case was finally heard in court.  He died a week later.

He did not murder her.  She wanted to die.  He wanted to die with her. Here are two consenting adults who want to leave this earth together.  That's how they want to die.  Why should this be illegal?

Of course, there are other questions around the apparent lack of palliative care or medical support.  But for me to go into that discussion would be purely speculative, and I feel that would be disrespectful in the circumstances.  I don't know what support was offered to them - all I know is that they wanted to die together, but sadly for him, he woke up.

When reading the article this morning, I realised that I actually might support euthanasia.  For so long, I never really had a hard and fast opinion on it, other than vaguely thinking that it does seem unfair that we can afford animals the dignity to die in their sleep, but feel the need to ensure fellow human beings undergo a puritan approach to dying.  And yet, when I think of the recent cases that have been in the media - and the Crutchley case in Taumarunui immediately comes to mind ( - I realise that my support leans with the right of an individual to decide when they want to die, and to seek assistance if need be, without any fear of criminal conviction on those who are left behind (accidentally or otherwise).  We give people the right to live as they choose (to an extent).  So why are we so scared to let people choose how they wish to die?  Of course, my lack of hard and fast opinion is based on the dilemma I face over mercy killing without consent.  I don't really know where to draw the line.  Or how to draw it.

But this particular case was not so complicated.

My point is, why the hell did the police feel such a need to lay charges against Mr Sutch?  If the purpose of applying the law is to punish someone for a crime, and to act as a deterrent to others, this achieved neither.  His wife made her decision to die and succeeded.  Charging someone who essentially tried and failed to die is pointless and cruel.  A person who wants to die should be given appropriate support (and if this support includes their decision to be put to sleep, then so be it).  He should not be vilified and turned into a criminal.  And entering into a suicide pact with your lifelong partner is not usually a decision that is taken lightly.

This was a complete waste of resources - of taxpayers' money, of police staff and time, of lawyers, the family and friends support networks, medical witnesses and experts, court staff, judges - and it is completely the fault of police, who have shown through this despicable, dogged pursuit of the law that they are incapable of good judgement.  Instead, they chose to tie up resources on a case that only served to make an ill man's dying days, already bleak after losing his much-loved wife in tragic circumstances, a total nightmare.

(The lack of judgement shown by the police puts the "guidelines" for CYFS and Police on the "smacking bill" into frightening perspective.  But, I digress.)

As so eloquently put by Dr Philip Nitschke:
What a tragedy. You could almost see this as being perhaps a consequence of that rather harsh interpretation of the law, and the pretty heavy-handed actions of the authorities.....
The police should be ashamed of themselves. I think what they did is disgusting.
Meanwhile, in today's Dominion Post, police are upset that they are under-resourced in child abuse investigations.

This doesn't seem a terribly complicated resourcing situation to resolve (especially if you also consider the other areas of policing in New Zealand that only serve to punish people for their potential to cause harm, such as the laws that seem to delight the traffic cops).

In the meantime, the police have shown that they are not capable of applying their judgement sensibly. It's time that the politicians had the courage to discuss and debate euthanasia - it's not going to go away, and it is morally reprehensible that we criminalise people who want to die.

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