Last year former commissioner of the metropolitan police, Lord Blair, spoke in a House of Lords debate in which he highlighted the problem with the current law on assisted dying and why it is unfit for purpose.
The reality is that those people who compassionately assist someone to die must be treated by the police as criminal; their home could be treated as a homicide scene and their possessions seized as evidence. Lord Blair’s speech really stood out to me as a clear and compelling reason for the UK to enact a clearer, more compassionate law on assisted dying.
Lord Blair said:
If an assisted death has taken place and the police arrive, they will deal with that as a potential homicide scene. They will photograph it, isolate it and seize notes left for relatives, gifts and computers. Those involved are under the threat of arrest, are interviewed under criminal caution and will face months of waiting for a prosecutorial decision, and it may not be possible even to have a funeral very quickly. However kind and professional the police are, how much more pain do we want to inflict on people who have done what they believe to be right, out of compassion?
I shall tell noble Lords just how much more pain. One witness spoke of his wife, who had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease. She was a nurse so she knew what the disease would do. She was determined to die before she was unable to take her own life. She told her family that but she would not ever tell them when and where she would do so, which meant, as the witness said, that the love of his life died alone with no one, particularly him, to hold her hand while she was dying. If that was not enough, it did not work, of course, because the police came in and investigated her death anyway since that is what they have to do.
That is the practicality of a law that is wrong, which is protected only by prosecutorial guidance that can be changed, and which leaves the police inevitably to have to perform an immensely distasteful process for people who are already suffering enough.
You can read the full text of Lord Blair’s speech in the debate “That this House takes note of the case for patient choice at end of life” from 12.58 pm