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Ray Gosling

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16th February 2010

BBC Broadcaster admits smothering lover

A freelance broadcaster for the BBC's 'Inside Out' has admitted smothering his ailing lover, suffering from AIDS, in a 'mercy killing'. Ray Gosling, 70, made the admission in a 12-minute documentary on death and dying broadcast on Monday evening, 15 February, on BBC One.

It is impossible for any outsider to establish the facts in this case objectively as all we have currently is Mr Gosling's confession. The police will need to investigate the case thoroughly in order to establish the facts and then it will be up to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to decide whether to bring a prosecution. If the DPP proceeds it will then be a matter for the courts. A key difficulty faced by all those involved will be that the key witness, the deceased, will be unable to give any account about what happened.

The case will undoubtedly stimulate further media and public debate on whether the law should be changed to allow assisted suicide and euthanasia. The following points are relevant to this debate:

1. The clinical details which have been revealed are very sketchy and it is not at all clear why the 'lover' was in pain or why his pain was not being more adequately controlled. It would be a tragedy if this case contributed to the widely held but false belief that it is necessary for some people to die with unrelieved pain. The case, if anything, should fuel calls to make the very best palliative care, already available to many, much more much more widely accessible.

2. On the basis of the testimony given, legally speaking, this is not a case of assisted suicide (helping someone to kill himself) but of murder (actively ending the life of another person)

3. The present law - which regards both assisted suicide and euthanasia as crimes - exists because there are people who are prepared to kill for all kinds of motives - to inherit, to be rid of an emotional or care burden and - occasionally - for what they may consider to be compassionate motives. The law provides a blanket prohibition on all acts of assisted suicide and euthanasia whilst giving the DPP discretion in deciding whether to prosecute and giving judges discretion in sentencing. This law is clear and right and does not require amending. It is important, in order to establish the facts in each case, that all cases that come to public attention are fully investigated.

4. Some people steal because they or their families are starving. But no one is suggesting we should have a law that licensed theft in advance for starving people. The law wisely bans stealing and then, if and when it occurs, it looks at the circumstances and decides how best to handle it. That is exactly the situation we have with assisted suicide and euthanasia and that is exactly how the law deals with it.

5. Talk of 'safeguards' in any law allowing some limited assisted suicide or euthanasia may sound reassuring. But we are talking about life and death here, so any safeguards would have to be very much more watertight than the ones we have seen to date. Evidence from Oregon, on which recent 'assisted dying' bills have been based, shows that depressed people are getting through the net without their condition being detected. Parliament has twice in the last four years refused to change the law to allow any assisted suicide because it has been convinced that no safeguards would offer adequate protection.

6. There is another factor at work here, which comes out strongly in Mr Gosling's confession. The public in general, and in particular the 'worried well', are being encouraged to be anxious about dying, to worry that, without an 'assisted dying' law on the statute book, they may find themselves unable to cope, either for themselves or for their relatives. This is a wholly misguided notion. Modern medical care has reduced substantially the symptomatic suffering of the dying process. The demand for licensing 'assisted dying' today has less to do with the suffering of illness and more to do with the growth of the choice agenda. But there are limits to personal choice. It is precisely for this reason that we have laws and the laws on homicide are there for reasons of public safety - to protect the vulnerable - not to give liberties to the determined.

7. It is somewhat bizarre and highly irresponsible that the BBC, which has known about this case for over two months, has not referred the matter to the police but instead made the decision to make it international news just before the DPP releases his assisted suicide prosecution guidelines. This will fuel concerns that the BBC is not covering this issue in an even-handed manner and may even be trying to put pressure on both the DPP and parliament by giving hugely disproportionate coverage to emotive cases in which the facts are selectively presented to an uninformed audience.

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