Assisted suicide

A contentious issue and back in the news today. While suicide is a deeply unpalatable idea, for some, it feels like a real and only solution and I recall a discussion we had a while ago about how to identify people with learning disabilities whose pain and distress were so extreme but whose lives were so controlled that suicide was not an option. It is hard to be clear, but if we are to make any headway with matters of choice, consent, and ownership of our own bodies, we must step up to the plate and discuss it openly. This is from my Good Question blog post today:

In very many cases, it seems evident to people outside of this awfulness that the situation is temporary: bullying will stop, shame is not worth dying for, depression can lift with the right support, and some things can be lived with, (see Grassroots suicide prevention for ongoing discussions). But what if the condition is intolerable and it is permanent, and – critically – there is nothing that can be done for a given individual to alleviate that? What are we to say to the person living with that burden? more here

I have seen people die in surgery, in intensive care, in wards at night, and in the middle of a busy consultant’s round yet completely alone. I have seen deaths held in abeyance by heroic efforts, and hastened by medication. I have seen deaths from trauma and disease, acute and chronic. Doing our best for people is the one final kindness we can offer. But to do our best, we need to know what that is from the most rational perspective possible and accept that it may not be what we would wish.


Can perpetrators be victims too?

Today there is a major outcry about what appears at face value to be extremely lenient sentencing of a paedophile and some extraordinary comments made by the prosecution about the child victim’s behaviour.

The prosecutor Robert Colover was also criticised after he reportedly told the hearing: “The girl is predatory in all her actions and she is sexually experienced.”

I listened to the phone-in on BBC radio 5Live where people with a great deal of experience of sexual abuse – some of them professionals in the field, others victims – were almost unanimous in their condemnation, with a few arguing somewhat unconvincingly of the new ‘knowingness’ of young girls. Nowhere though, was there any consideration of the perpetrator – beyond that fact that he is forty one years old and therefore unarguably culpable.

Maybe they are right but, for myself, I would like to know all the facts before taking a position. That’s because I have known numerous mentally vulnerable men who have been victimised by children & I actually don’t know how many may have got as far as this did. One was lured into a school by a group of twelve year olds and taunted about the size of his penis until eventually he dropped his trousers to show them. He was arrested. The girls claimed he had set up CCTV in the girls’ toilets and he agreed – he thought it was a compliment on his skills with gadgets. Luckily, it was possible to demonstrate his vulnerability – a combination of Asperger’s and severely impaired intellectual functioning – so that, while the outcome of the court proceedings registered his guilt with regard to exposure, the sentence reflected his lack of wilful intent.

So what about the language used? Let’s be clear – this was used by the prosecution not the defence so why? What did he know that we don’t? And let’s be clear too that whether or not someone is sexually experienced is a fact not a judgment. I just hope he said that the girl’s behaviour (as opposed to the girl herself) was predatory because that too is a matter of observation, albeit with a degree of leeway. Nowhere in this argument is there a case for blaming the child; however ‘knowing’ or ‘precocious’ (another word that came up on the radio phone-in) a child may be, the onus for responsible behaviour lies with the adult – at least where the adult is the one with the greater power. If neither party has full competence though, how is culpability to be decided? Maybe the best we can do is to apply the law in a way that recognises all the vulnerabilities, and my wish here is for better information by which to understand both the comments and the judgment before in turn judging each in ignorance.