|Maxine Peake and Rupert Penry-Jones|
Until, that is, one hears the real news from Belgium that its parliament has approved voluntary euthanasia for terminally ill children of any age - with parental consent and after counselling. I have recently read this comment: "We all know about very ill children and adults who have had to endure extreme weakness, debilitation and are nearing the end of their lives, for whom there are no quick and easy answers. Should ending their life be an option? There are some who think so, and continue to campaign for 'death with dignity' whilst dismissing... concern about 'a slippery slope' to full-blown euthanasia. It is only 12 years since Belgium legalised euthanasia for adults. They know that British society is not ready to legalise euthanasia - so they are adopting a 'softly softly' approach, starting with 'assisted dying' for terminally ill patients able to make a reasoned decision" (Lyndon Bowring). It won't be long before we hear about Margot McDonald and Lord Falconer promoting bills for just that in the Scottish and Westminster parliaments respectively.
Silk's resolution to the legal conundrum was rather neat. In my view it was a vindication of the validity of the law as it stands. Had the mother been responsible for her daughter's death with nothing but her own word that it was her daughter's wish, she could well have been found guilty of murder. As it transpired, she had not been involved; Jo's youngest brother had carried out the girl's instructions and his mother lies to protect him. And the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to take any further action. It illustrated what I call the justice and mercy of the present law. Justice demands that life should protected and that the taking of life should prevented. Mercy takes motive into account; hence the guidelines for prosecution allow for compassion as a mitigation. Ending someone's life must never be a matter of economics or convenience. The reaction of the two QCs to the case was one not of triumph or defeat but of emotional wreckage. Nothing is more shocking than the taking of life, whatever the reason.