The Care Not Killing Alliance comprises 30 organisations and exists to promote more and better palliative care and to oppose any moves to legalise euthanasia or assisted suicide in the UK. The Alliance is therefore commenting solely on those aspects of the Law Commission report that touch on these areas.
The Law Commission report rightly reiterates a warning made by another body that to make 'mercy killing' a lesser offence would mean that 'the weak and handicapped would receive less effective protection from the law than the fit and well'. We welcome the statement of the Law Commission that reform of the Homicide Act is not an appropriate place for a debate on the legalisation of euthanasia or assisted suicide. We urge the government, if a new homicide act is enacted, to be vigilant in preventing any individual from using the bill as a vehicle to legalise euthanasia by stealth.
Although there is no suggestion by the Law Commission itself to propose any change in the law on euthanasia, there is one aspect of the Law Commission's proposals that we oppose strongly. This is the proposal that, uniquely among partial defences, killing by a carer of someone who consents to be killed should result in 'double dipping' from first-degree murder down to manslaughter. This contravenes the report's important claim that partial defences for intentional killing should relate, not to the status of the victim, but to the reduced culpability of the offender. It also represents the sole exception to the rule that all partial defences should reduce first-degree murder to second-degree murder. If the offender suffers from depression, as the result of years of stress working as a carer, this is relevant to level of responsibility and hence to culpability. However, if the victim, who allegedly consents to be killed, is suffering from depression this should not count as a reason why he or she is less worth of the protection of the law. While there may be a case for regarding diminished responsibility in itself as meriting a verdict of manslaughter, neither the consent nor the status of the victim should be relevant to this judgement.
The report argues that 'the existence of the offence/defence of infanticide does not imply that the law devalues the lives of infants'. It is the depressed state of the mother rather than the supposed lesser status of the infant that explains the lenient sentence. It is important therefore that any future change to the law on infanticide does not result in the 'devaluing of the lives of infants' by making them more vulnerable to acts of domestic violence. This would run counter to a growing awareness in society of the special care that society should show towards young children and vulnerable adults in domestic situations. The extension of the defence of infanticide beyond the new mother to unrelated carers, to fathers and to step-mothers would greatly reduce the protection given to young children by society. This is strongly to be resisted.
We hope that the Law Commission will carefully consider these points and ensure that any new Homicide Act offers full and equal protection to the most vulnerable members of our society.
Dr Brian Iddon MP
Care Not Killing Alliance
PO Box 56322
London SE1 8XW
Tel: 0207 633 0770
Fax: 0207 681 1924
Paragraph 8.49 quoting Criminal Law Revision Committee Offences Against the Person (1980) Report 14, para 115
Paragraph 8.94 and elsewhere