The screen death of well loved Coronation Street character Hayley Cropper has raised important legal questions.
Hayley took her own life rather than face dying from pancreatic cancer.
Coronation Street is written as a character driven, rather than issue driven drama, so for Hayley’s character it made complete sense for her to take control of her own end of life care in this way; after all she was the Soap’s first transsexual character so had a history of making life changing decisions. However, the legal issues raised by story are more complex.
Hayley was still well enough to end her life herself with no assistance. But what if she had not been? What if she had been in a situation where she needed help to commit suicide?
Within the next few weeks The UK Supreme Court is to grapple with the difficult question of the extent to which it is appropriate for the state to punish those who act to end the life of a severely disabled individual at their genuine request.
The law as it stands is very clear. Murder is the killing of a human in peace time intending grievous bodily harm or death.
Suicide has not been a criminal offence since the Suicide Act 1961. But at present administering fatal drugs to a severely disabled person at their request would be murder and saying you did because you were asked to by the deceased is no defence.
The case before the Supreme Court is based in human rights and the right “to respect for family and private life”.
If the outcome is that assisted suicide becomes permissible all agree there would have to be robust safeguards.
And of course it is the potential for euthanasia by the back door which worries many who oppose any change in the law.
They ask what evidence would be sufficient that someone had a genuine, voluntary, clear, settled, informed wish to die?
All of these issues will be dramatised in a play to be performed at the Dukes on Thursday, May 15. “Killing Roger” received rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe and is Lancaster for one night only.
There will also be a discussion involving the actors and myself after the show. You are welcome to join us.