Time magazine writes, Ray “Gosling, an award-winning journalist whose rumpled persona has endeared him to generations of viewers, went on to recount “a hot afternoon” when he smothered the unknown man in his hospital bed.” The confession has led to his arrest.
The New York Times reports Gosling’s description of the scene. “The doctor said, ‘There’s nothing we can do,’ and he was in terrible, terrible pain. I said to the doctor, ‘Leave me just for a bit,’ and he went away. I picked up the pillow and smothered him until he was dead.”
The admission has reignited a long-running and intense debate about euthanasia in the UK. Typically the debate is between those terminally ill who want to prematurely end their lives and those who believe all such killing is wrong. As in the U.S. the assumption on the part of the media is that those who wish to die should be free to make that choice. On this occasion, however, the circumstances of the killing do not leave the so called “right to die” movement on very comfortable ground.
In fact, they reveal the very slippery slope that the “right to die” movement stands atop. Gosling’s statements to the media have left it unclear whether the person asked for assistance in his suicide, or if Gosling took matters too much into his own hands. Did the AIDS patient really asked to be suffocated then and there? Or had he simply expressed a desire to end his life at some point in the past.
In the UK, while assisting a suicide is illegal, public opinion supports allowing assisted suicide–even in cases where death is not imminent. Just this year, two cases have hit the headlines, according to The Times:
In one case, Frances Inglis, 57, was sentenced to life in prison after injecting her severely brain-damaged 22-year-old son, Thomas, with heroin, as he lay in a nursing home. She said she had acted out of love and that Thomas, who had jumped from a moving ambulance after being injured in a brawl in 2007, had never been able to express his desire to end his life.
In the second case, Bridget Kathleen Gilderdale, 55, was acquitted of attempted murder after helping her 31-year-old daughter, Lynn, kill herself with a lethal cocktail of drugs. The circumstances seemed clearer: for 17 years Lynn had suffered from severe myalgic encephalomyelitis that left her bedridden, in severe pain and unable to eat except through a tube. She had yearned to die, the evidence showed, and had tried several times to commit suicide before begging her mother to help her in her final attempt.
In other cases, Britons have simply traveled to Switzerland, where looser laws allow foreigners to commit suicide there.
There are major reasons to be concerned about the “right to die” movement. Already, in the Netherlands and in Switzerland, the laws are being abused and the already thin distinction between euthanasia and murder is being blurred. Compassion for those who are suffering requires us to give care, time, and attention to alleviate that suffering. Not to snuff out altogether those who suffer.