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I HAD no idea until last night that King George V had been fast-tracked to oblivion when, in 1935, he was given a lethal injection in the neck.
This fact was revealed when prominent British euthanasia supporter, Dr Michael Irwin – addressing a packed meeting of the Brighton & Hove Humanist Society – provided a fascinating background to the current heated debate on the subject of assisted suicide in the UK.
And he warned that “anti-choice” zealots, mainly from religious organisations, were beavering away in the background to scupper any attempts to liberalise the law on euthanasia.
It was therefore vitally important, he said, that people in the UK who support a change in the law that would allow assisted suicide – around 75 percent of the population – make their feelings known in no uncertain terms to their MPs.
Dr Irwin, 78, recently challenged the police to arrest him for his role in the suicide of Raymond Cutkelvin in 2007. He contributed £1,500 towards the cost of Cutkelvin’s trip to the Swiss clinic Dignitas, and accompanied the dying man and his partner, Alan Cutkelvin Rees, to Zurich.
Alan Cutkelvin Rees was subsequently arrested by police in London for his involvement in the death, but Irwin was ignored – until he threw down the gauntlet. Police at Shoreditch in east London then arrested him, and he has been bailed until September 23.
Dr Irwin said he issued the challenge to expose the “hypocrisy” of the law in relation to assisted suicide in the UK. In a talk entitled Assisted Dying: What’s Legal and What’s Not, he pointed out that euthanasia campaigners in Britain have been trying for decades to bring about a change in the law.
The Voluntary Euthanasia Society, for example, was established in 1935, a year before King George V received a lethal injection of morphine and cocaine from his doctor, Lord Dawson, who had agreed with the Queen not to “strive officiously” to keep the king alive.
Curiously, Dawson then opposed a bill in the House of Lords that would have legalised euthanasia, arguing that legislation was unnecessary because “good doctors” already helped their patients to die.
Addressing the case of MS sufferer Debbie Purdy and the landmark ruling by the Law Lords for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to clarify the law on people who travel abroad for assisted suicides, Dr Irwin said:
It’s a small step in the right direction.
But he added:
It might actually make it more difficult for people to go to Switzerland. In a sense, the DPP was given a can of worms.
He explained that guidelines drawn up by the DPP could prove far too restrictive. If, for example, there was to be a requirement that nobody assisting a suicide should gain financially from that person’s death, then it could pose problems as most spouses would fall into that category.
Even then, if the DPP does lay down guidelines for going to Switzerland there would still be a two-tier system – “if you have the money you can go, but if you haven’t you stay here and risk prosecution”.
Dr Irwin said he did not think a change in the law would occur for at least a decade given that “there is a solid block of obstruction” in the House of Lords, and a grim determination on the part of mainly religious campaigners to obstruct any changes.
He added that, apart from writings to MPs, it was important for people to join organisations such as Dignity in Dying as they will need as much public support as possible in the battle to get the law changed.
“This is an important human rights issue,” he stressed.