What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.

About

What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Contract killing

As Wesley J. Smith points out, when he was in law school he was taught that X's agreeing to be murdered does not make killing X legally something other than murder. And a good thing, too. Well, as usual, the UK is leading us into a new world. In Brave New Britain, that isn't true anymore, evidently.

Michael Bateman put a bag over the head of his wife Margaret and pumped in gas to kill her. She was in a lot of pain that wasn't getting properly treated because the moronic medical establishment didn't diagnose her broken pelvis. (It was discovered after her death.) She was also depressed about not being able to do normal things like taking showers. That's it. She wasn't dying, if you think that's a relevant consideration. (I don't.) So she and Michael planned her death, and he killed her, because she apparently couldn't do it herself. The prosecutor has declared that it "isn't in the public interest" to prosecute Michael, presumably because Margaret agreed to be murdered.

In the current context of recent posts, I'm almost afraid to ask whether mere libertarianism would mean that agreeing to have yourself killed with plastic bags and gas means that everything is A-okay and no prosecution should be carried out against your killer. I'm pretty sure I know the answer. And that, folks, is just one reason that, while I'll defend small government all over the place, I don't carry a libertarian card.

Comments (47)

I guess the answer to your question boils down to whether "mere libertarianism" is a strong limited government tendency or a strong tendency toward "doctrinaire cultural libertarianism."

Well, what it apparently depends on is whether prosecuting Mr. Bateman falls into one of "police protection, enforcement of contracts, and national defense." The most obvious place there for it to fall is "police protection." But usually the libertarian idea is that police protection can only be against things that a mentally competent adult does not consent to--specifically, the protection is usually said to be limited to protection against force and fraud. If that's the concept at work, then since Margaret (we're granting arguendo) consented to being killed by Michael, "police protection" would not apply, and Michael cannot be prosecuted in a merely libertarian state.

The prosecutor has declared that it "isn't in the public interest" to prosecute Michael, presumably because Margaret agreed to be murdered.

This isn't the same thing as the prosecutor declaring that what Michael did isn't murder. This the prosecutor saying that, premises considered, he does not want to expend his office's resources proving to a judge and twelve Englishmen (I guess the English still have juries; after Labour's judiciary acts who knows) that it was.

On the one hand, he clearly has the authority and discretion to decline to prosecute someone, even someone who is clearly guilty. Furthermore, he may have a variety of good---even perhaps a variety of non-insidious---reasons for declining to prosecute Michael. It may be, for instance, that the prosecutor fears having the euthanasia nuts descend upon his office and the local courthouse and turning his trial into a circus. He may fear that these people will pump Michael up with grandstanding, deep-pocketed lawyers who will use the proceedings to attempt to extract a damaging pro-death ruling from the appellate courts. He may not feel that he has the resources to fight that battle successfully, and he may not want to go down in history as the bloke who got wrung out by their lordships on the question. Or he may just be a spineless liberal. Who knows.

The funny thing with common-law adjudication, and the concomitant judicial policy-making that it has exercised so vigorously in the last century, is that it needs material. The most energetic judicial activist can't turn a case about manure shipments into a ruling expanding abortion rights. Many of the most damaging Supreme Court cases in this country came about because some foolish (or sometimes collusive) prosecutor took the bait of bringing charges against a defendant who had been dangled in front of him for the express purpose of facilitating judicial activism (see, e.g., Griswold), or where activists latched onto a fortuitous defendant (see, e.g., Lawrence). It is as true in litigation as in war that if you proceed to fight the battle on ground of the enemy's choosing you have already lost. The effects of media coverage of one incident will fade; the effects of an appellate court decision against you will perpetuate themselves.

I've seen some folks argue rather simply that, if you're mentally competent, you're not going to ask to be killed. (Similarly, they argue that folks in their right mind, without any force applied, aren't going to think it's a good idea to sell their bodies via either prostitution or organ-vending.)

Additional arguments along the line of a level of proof not being possible to offer.

Really [annoys folks a lot--redacted, LM].

That aside-- did Mr. Smith remember to mention the war on pain control? I know that's one of his favorites-- and deservedly so.

Titus, I'm afraid I cannot agree with prosecutorial discretion in this class of cases. I imagine you wouldn't agree either if Michael had pumped in the gas _without_ Margaret's consent, or even if there were serious question of the family's lying about her consent. Or if some family member of yours were beaten to death by a gang and the prosecutor said it "wasn't in the public interest" to prosecute because of gang intimidation! Remember that in England prosecutorial "guidelines" about when the prosecutor's office will and will not prosecute have already been issued as what _in effect_ amounts to legalization of assisted suicide by a family member. I've written about this elsewhere. Systematic refusal to prosecute can amount to legalization. If we would be up in arms about such a precedent if the victim were killed against her will or without her will, then we need to be concerned here as well. The prima facie case is that if there is sufficient evidence to convict of the crime and if the crime is serious, prosecution should take place. This is definitely an abuse of prosecutorial discretion, and it is an ominous one.

By the way, let me add: The high court in England ordered the prosecutor to hand down "guidelines" when _no prosecution had taken place_. The suit was brought by a woman who merely _intended_ to go abroad with her husband's assistance to commit suicide and wanted "guidance" on whether her husband would be prosecuted. So in England, it's evidently not true that the courts have to have material to work with in the sense of an existing prosecution.

Lydia:

Steve Burton has described "mere libertarianism" this way:

"Libertarianism is a purely political doctrine according to which the state ought to be confined to, at most, a few essential functions - most notably police protection, enforcement of contracts, and national defense."

What ARE you saying? Are you saying that Burton's mere libertarianism excludes the existence of criminal courts? OK, I don't see the establishment and maintenance of courts listed as an example of essential functions but I wonder if his list was intended to be comprehensive? "Most notably" seems to imply that it wasn't a comprehensive list, and "police protection" seems to imply criminal courts, since the police wouldn't have anything to do with the people they arrested, in justice, if there weren't any courts to try those people.

Also, let's remind ourselves that the court that said this murderer couldn't be tried for murder was established and is maintained by a government that is not libertarian, a government that in fact seems to be developing into something quite the opposite of the libertarian idea of what a government should be.

I don't know about you guys but I usually think of the courts as an institution separate from the government. If I was thinking up a short list of proper activities of government I might have forgotten to list "establish courts and fund their activities" as well. In England "establish" wouldn't even be applicable because the courts are older than the government, aren't they?

Steve P., I'm saying that if "police protection" is taken in a pretty standard libertarian sense to be protection only against force and fraud, then Bateman can't be prosecuted on libertarian principles, since his wife agreed to be killed. And this isn't just theoretical. Many, many libertarians expressly _do_ support legalized suicide and assisted suicide for this very reason.

And of course the prosecutor and the courts are part of the government! On that I assume knowledgeable libertarians and I would agree. The prosecutor is part of the executive branch. The courts are part of the judicial branch. Believe me--anyone who believes in limited government, myself included, is going to consider it to be a "government act" if you get prosecuted for a crime and the courts try you!

Lydia,

Burton's "mere libertarianism" seems to reject the various ethical and philosophical ideologies that go by the name "libertarianism" (and thus perhaps your "libertarian principles") and is merely an admittedly vague idea about what he wants government to do--not too much.

I'd ask him whether he thinks his mere libertarianism allows the prosecution of murderers whose victims volunteered.

I am just as surprised that you don't think of the courts as a separate institution from the government as you seemed to be that I have the contrary idea. Of course the government and the courts are related to each other in various ways. The government executes the law and the court interprets the law, for example.

Steve P., you are engaging in an equivocation on the term "government". Here in America, it always refers to all of the acts done under either the legislative, administrative, or judicial functions. It may also include other functions if there are other functions, but it ALWAYS includes these. In Britain, "the government" can be used in order to reference the ruling party's administration of the organ's of government that are subject to the ruling party (or ruling coalition), and is thus intended in such a construction to exclude other aspects of governance than those (the parts of government that are not under the ruling party's control). In such an expression, a court may be separate from the ruling party's control because the judge is appointed through some other mechanism, so he owes nothing to the ruling party "the government" for his position. But whether he does or does not owe anything to the PM and his cronies, that judge still controls people's lives through acts which are rightly considered in the class "governance". He is part and parcel of the governing bodies. If the judge has the authority to speak and obligate others to obey, that is governance.

If the judge has the authority to speak and obligate others to obey, that is governance.

Exactly. For example, a judge will run a trial, and perhaps along with the jury (also part of the operation of the court), may find a person guilty. That person will then be forced to undergo a penalty. He may be put in prison or have a fine taken from him. These certainly are not _private_ functions. These are governing functions involving the power of coercion that is supposed to rest with "the government" (in this fairly standard sense) alone. Private people shouldn't be able to imprison people or levy fines against them all on their own recognizance, for example.

Once the prosecuting authority decides it's not in the public interest to proceed with a case, there seems to be no established procedure for overturning the decision or at least getting the reasoning explained - unless Parliament takes an interest.

Public spirited inquisitiveness which is unexceptional in America and backed, perhaps in the last resort, by the Constitution, isn't particularly evident in Britain. That's one reason why the popular media aren't likely to make a fuss about the Michael Bateman case.

English law, like the government, grew organically. The autonomy of the judiciary seems to be implied in the Bill of Rights (1689) which prohibits the monarch from meddling with the law. But not much else concerning the separation of the powers appears to be thoroughly documented: a very big difference from the American paradigm.

Tony,

"Here in America, it always refers to all of the acts done under either the legislative, administrative, or judicial functions."

I didn't know that. I've always used the relevant words differently. Anyway, regardless of how the words are usually used, the distinction between between government ("the legislative and administrative functions") and the court ("the judicial functions") is relevant to this discussion I think. The busybodies and bullies who incline Steve Burton to mere libertarianism are usually bureaucrats and agents of the government (executive branch), not usually judges. The laws that license those bullies and busybodies are enacted by legislators, not usually judges. Judges don't really act like bullies and busybodies or legislating enablers of bullies and busybodies except to the extent that they succeed in wielding essentially executive and legislative powers.

Steve P., I have no idea how this distinction even comes into this discussion. It was the prosecutor who decided not to prosecute. Naturally, if he had prosecuted, a court would have been required for the trial. Trials take place in courtrooms in Britain as well as America. Anyone who is acting as a useful party to this discussion needs to acknowledge that if Bateman were prosecuted, tried, convicted, and punished, that would be a government act in the only relevant sense of the word. If prosecuting, trying, convicting, and punishing people for crimes isn't a government action, I don't know what is, and I don't imagine any libertarian would know what is, either.

Lydia,

I'm sorry. We were talking about courts and I focused on that and was thinking of judges. I guess a prosecutor is an agent of the government.

Judges don't really act like bullies and busybodies or legislating enablers of bullies and busybodies except to the extent that they succeed in wielding essentially executive and legislative powers.

Oh, but they do, all the time. First of all, activist judges don't really get the distinction between the legislature and the judiciary, and they legislate from the bench all the time. Even the expression "case law", which is extremely widespread, blurs the distinction. Secondly, some of these judges are very much busy-bodies of a most strenuous sort. They issue injunctions and court orders, and especially render case decisions, that intrude into human lives in ways that had not before been considered a governmental capacity at all.

Besides, insofar as the judge is a necessary part of the process of carrying out the laws by presiding over both civil and criminal trials, insofar as any law must pass _through_ the judicial branch as part of the enforcement process, of course the courts are part of the government. Even if a judge is the most restrained interpreter of the law you like, when he finds someone guilty and/or passes sentence in a criminal case, when he presides over a jury trial, or when he presides over a civil trial, he is carrying out the will of the legislature, which couldn't be properly effected without him. If the acts of a legislature are the acts of bullies or busybodies and the judge is a cog in the wheel of putting them into effect, then of course he's part of "the government" in the only relevant sense.

In any event, my question remains whether a libertarian, including a mere libertarian, believes that on his view of government Bateman should be prosecuted and suffer a penalty. If, as I suspect, not, then there you go.

As it happens, I don't think it's very relevant to point out that the government in England is not a libertarian's dream. That's certainly true, but it's also true that on some particular things, such as (right now) suicide, the bizarre mix of socialism, libertinism, and the kitchen sink in England has given us specific outcomes that are, in fact, those generally favored by libertarians.

Here's a Libertarian brain teaser. Suppose someone has Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID), where they wish to have a limb amputated for no health reason, and they ask a hospital to do it. I think this has actually come up in England, and I think the hospital actually deliberated it, though I doubt they carried it out. A family member showing up someday and suing may have been a strong reason not to, since . . . oh I don't know, an idea of what is normal and not can't be taken for granted anymore.

Lydia,

"he is carrying out the will of the legislature"

No, when he does those things (the things you mentioned), he is officially making a judgement about laws. It is the police and other executives and agents of the govt who carry out, who execute, the will of the legislature. Rest assured that I will not believe you if you try to convince me that you do not understand the difference. As Tony has suggested, when he issues injunctions and court orders and expects police and other agents of the govt to carry out those orders he is acting like an executive and may on some of those occasions be executing, carrying out, the will of the legislature.

Snatching a moment between tonight's lecture on Locke and tomorrow's lecture on the rules of inference...

As I understand the facts of the case, I feel very, very sorry for Margaret Bateman, possibly even more sorry for her husband Michael, and thoroughly disgusted by the "moronic medical establishment" that would seem to have brought things to this pass through their incompetence.

What I *can't* understand, Lydia, is why you would be so on fire to see Michael Bateman prosecuted that you would consider this, even for a moment, a persuasive test case against the views of some libertarians on euthanasia.

My immediate reaction is: leave the guy alone. Hasn't he suffered enough?

And I don't think that's my crazy libertarian ideology speaking. It's just normal human sympathy.

One of the best reasons not to prosecute for murder is that the coroner ruled it a suicide. The defense would challenge the indictment for murder on the basis that the government had already ruled no murder occurred.

To charge murder, the prosecutor would first have to overcome the coroner's decision.

Listen to Mr. Burton

My immediate reaction is: leave the guy alone. Hasn't he suffered enough?

And I don't think that's my crazy libertarian ideology speaking. It's just normal human sympathy.

I have no idea how much he suffered, if any. Her family clearly wanted this too, even though she wasn't dying. Did they suggest the idea, or encourage depressed thoughts? By the sounds of the article, I'd guess he's relieved she's dead, as are her sons. So? And normally doesn't sympathy come into play at sentencing?

Where is the sympathy for the women who come after who are pressured to acquiesce to do what their family wants because they'll face no prosecution?

One of the best reasons not to prosecute for murder is that the coroner ruled it a suicide. . . . Listen to Mr. Burton

If he put a bag over her head and put gas in, then it isn't a suicide. If the finding of facts are wrong in a case, then justice isn't served.

Your legalism is not attractive. I suppose if a lawyer declares a child molestation as an accidental trauma, then we should act as though it is? Because . . . um, well why is that?

I didn't say libertarian ideology was "crazy," but I do think that such severe limits on government action as I have described above (i.e., "police protection" and hence laws with punishments cannot apply to things an adult victim consented to) means that one cannot prosecute in a case of this kind where the victim consented to be actively killed. I therefore think libertarianism seriously flawed and incorrect. The same approach would also rule out prosecuting Jack Kevorkian, by the way, who was in fact found guilty of murder eventually for killing a person who could not activate a killing machine himself but who at least ostensibly consented to Kevorkian's doing so.

Of course, if we do these things entirely by emotion, and we feel no pity for Kevorkian but do feel pity for Bateman, then we might decide to prosecute Kevorkian but not Bateman on the basis of no moral or legal principles whatsoever but only of our sympathies.

I should note that if emotion is our guide, then it will be difficult not to be caught up in the waves of emotion that lead to support for those who kill people who do _not_ consent, such as Robert Latimer. Latimer pumped gas from his truck's exhaust pipe into the cab to murder his 12-year-old disabled daughter Tracy, thus putting her out of his misery. Many people in Canada, caught up in what they at least view as "normal human sympathy" for a man who "suffered" living with the anguish of a disabled daughter, strongly support Latimer and are outraged that he was actually sent to prison for a while in Canada. I wrote about this here:

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2008/04/mark_pickup_does_not_submit_an.html

"Crazy libertarian ideology" would at least not allow itself to make policy decisions by the guidance of mere unprincipled sympathy; hence, crazy libertarian ideology would (I presume) unequivocally condemn Latimer and support his imprisonment (at least, if not execution) for murder.

When we get into the realm of pure emotion, I fear we're doing even _worse_ than "crazy libertarian ideology."

He put a bag over his wife's head and gassed her to death. You better bet your boots I'm "on fire" to see him prosecuted.

Never forget, Lydia: there are no utopias. I don't carry a the catholic social teaching "government-is-necessary-and-good" card because of government's clear and pervasive ethical problems. I don't excuse the idea of contract killing, but IMO it is in many ways less troubling than, say, 4th of July church celebrations of the military.

4th of July church celebrations in the military are more disturbing than a man's gassing his wife to death? And no prosecution? That's pretty darned sick. And we have to have a "utopia" in order to have the government prosecute men who murder their wives? Yeah, that's right. That's what England used to be when it prosecuted wife murderers: a utopia. Mmm-hmm.

We don't need to pump gas into a bag to commit suicide. All that is needed is the bag. It is apparent that the lady in question simply wanted her husbands participation, suicide being so lonely an act.

We don't need to pump gas into a bag to commit suicide. All that is needed is the bag. It is apparent that the lady in question simply wanted her husbands participation, suicide being so lonely an act.

You've merely admitted it isn't a suicide, since traditionally acts that include more than necessary for suicide is what we call homicide. Namely, the intentional act of another. This is just begging the question of whether or not a person can be killed if they give verbal assent.

No, when he does those things (the things you mentioned), he is officially making a judgement about laws. It is the police and other executives and agents of the govt who carry out, who execute, the will of the legislature.

Steve P. I can't tell if you are intentionally being obtuse or not but this is not thought through. If the legislature makes a law that you cannot smoke crack, THEY aren't being busy-bodies, it's the POLICE who arrest you and put you in jail. Only the police actually carry out the busy-body acts.

Of course, when you come up for trial, it's not the JUDGE who puts you back in prison after being found guilty by a jury, it's the POLICE. Those stinking pig police are the the only busy-body agents around. The PRESIDENT doesn't go out and collar people himself, he only tells the AG to do it, who tells the head of FBI to do it, who tells the SAIC to do it, who tells the new-recruit FBI agent to go out and arrest you. So the legislature, the President, the AG, the head of FBI, and the SAIC are not busy-bodies and are not the people to attack. You must confine yourself strictly to the guy who puts the handcuffs on and forcibly pushes you into the jail cell.

Unless, of course, you want to pay attention to common sense and to rational analysis. In that case, the entire body of men whose official acts are acts of authority that gave direction, authorization, and command to the lowly cop so that he was carrying out their orders are ALSO responsible for the restraint put on the prisoner, and are how governance happens. That includes the judge who sits on the bench for the trial, who gives his authority to the proceedings and validates them, who rules on issues that come up during the trial and after, who ESTABLISHES that the verdict shall indeed be applied and ORDERS it to be so.

when he issues injunctions and court orders and expects police and other agents of the govt to carry out those orders he is acting like an executive and may on some of those occasions be executing, carrying out, the will of the legislature.

That is exactly what being a judge consists in: issuing orders that the sheriff, bailif, police, and others are required to give effect to.

Lydia: some years ago, my very dear friend S. was summoned to the bedside of his friend A., who was in the final stages of AIDS. He went with some trepidation, because he was afraid that he might be asked to assist in his friend's suicide. Sure enough, he found A. in a state of continual, intense pain, which everybody competent to venture an opinion agreed could only end in death. The only question was whether it would take a day, or a week, or a month.

A. had researched methods of ending his own life, and asked S. to procure for him the necessary tools.

S. found that he just couldn't bring himself to do it. He pleaded cowardice, pointing out that under the law he could be prosecuted for murder.

A. was very bitter about it. Their friendship ended in mutual anger and resentment.

S. flew back home, full of guilt feelings. A. died a few days later.

True story.

I guess you'd think that S. did right, and that A. was wrong to blame him. And I guess that if S. had done what A. asked him to, then you'd be anxious to prosecute him.

I would not be. I think there are cases (many, many cases) where the lawyers ought to take a holiday, and leave the ultimate judgment to their betters.

I think james wilson makes an interesting point: "We don't need to pump gas into a bag to commit suicide. All that is needed is the bag. It is apparent that the lady in question simply wanted her husbands participation, suicide being so lonely an act."

As I understand it, suicide is quite easy. All one needs is a car with a full tank of gas and a closed garage. So why drag ones husband into it?

Yes, I think S. did the right thing, and yes, I think there should be a penalty in law if he had done what A. asked. I doubt that even under the current state of the law or under a state of the law I would recommend he would have been prosecuted for "murder" for the acts in question, since we're talking about only "procuring" things. Probably something along the lines of being an accomplice. Some states have specific laws about assisting suicide that apply to those actions.

I also think that what Bateman did went beyond "procuring necessary tools." He carried out the whole shebang. He actively killed her himself--all the way. He killed her. He put a bag over her head and gassed her. Therefore, Bateman should be prosecuted for murder.

(I note, too, that Mrs. Bateman wasn't dying. As I said in the main post, if that matters to you, that was the case. I mention it here, Steve, because you seem to be making something, I'm not sure exactly what, of the fact that A's situation "could end only in death" and that he "died a few days later.")

Is there nothing at all inside of you, Steve, that responds with a sense that something is *severely wrong* with gassing your wife to death? Or is it really the case that if we add, "Your wife wanted you to gas her to death, and she was in pain," that removes all your instinctive revulsion against a man's actually killing his wife?

he found A. in a state of continual, intense pain,

Was no morphine available? The one thing we can certainly count on our medical system for these days is pain relief.

A. was very bitter about it. Their friendship ended in mutual anger and resentment.

Rejecting a dear friend on one's deathbed for any reason is most shocking. I think you wish to illustrate by this how desperate A was, but it seems to me it shows something else deeply disturbing.

The fact that A asked, and then INSISTED that S assist him in committing an act S was clearly unhappy with indicates a defect in A's friendship and loyalty, doesn't it? A was clearly using S, and manipulating the friendship for something that exceeded the capacity of that friendship to bear.

Steve, you are right that there are many times when the prosecutors ought to decline to prosecute. The best example is when the crime might fit the technical definition, but the facts simply aren't clear enough to warrant that kind of decision. Another is when the facts are clear enough, but pursuing the state's rightful justice will lose the state some other, equally valuable good. This might obtain if you were to try to prosecute a popular movie idol in a shaky regime: riots or something equally damaging might occur. But I would not classify the situation where a private individual knowingly took the law in his own hands to relieve a friend of pain as a classic situation where we might want the law to look the other way. I think, rather, that what you really want is there to be no law against suicide or assisted suicide, so the friend doesn't have to defy the law, and absent that preferred condition, you simply want the state to turn a blind eye to the crime. But that won't do: if society thinks that assisting suicide is BAD and criminal, then the prosecutor _shouldn't_ turn a blind eye to the case.

If he put a bag over her head and put gas in, then it isn't a suicide. If the finding of facts are wrong in a case, then justice isn't served.

Findings of coroners henceforth need to come with warnings: "Kids, this guy's a professional. Don't try this at home."

Justice may best be served by the coroner's ruling, which is, to your mind, counter to the law. Law is to justice as the calculus is to the volume of a sphere, only an estimation. Sometimes we rely on people in the justice system to deliver justice, or mercy, where the law falls short.

The question was, 'Why don't "they" try someone for murder?' As I pointed out, you can't try someone for murder in a suicide. Suicide means "self-killing" in a crude translation. In the U.S., it's illegal to put dead people on trial. If she were convicted, what would be the penalty? Would we have to exhume the body, and draw and quarter her?

Your kick is with the coroner, not the DA.

But I'll wager you couldn't get any judge to rule the coroner ruled incorrectly.

Ed Darrell, your trolling is getting annoying. If the coroner's verdict were sufficient, the prosecutor wouldn't have needed to issue a statement that prosecution was not in the public interest. Considering that the facts of the case regarding the husband's actions are not in doubt or question, that the husband in fact admits them, and that he did kill his wife, all this fiddling around with a coroner's verdict of suicide (apparently on the basis of her agreement to be killed) is puerile. And in any event if the coroner is being allowed to define murder out of existence, the effect and the point is the same: Kill someone with his agreement, and you don't get prosecuted. Which is bad.

Tony,

"If the legislature makes a law that you cannot smoke crack, THEY aren't being busy-bodies, it's the POLICE who arrest you and put you in jail. Only the police actually carry out the busy-body acts."

That's a real distinction. Thank you. Don't forget that the police are only carrying out the laws that the legislature enacts though.

"Those stinking pig police are the the only busy-body agents around."

I wouldn't say that. Give it some more thought and get back to me.

"That is exactly what being a judge consists in: issuing orders that the sheriff, bailif, police, and others are required to give effect to."

You are exaggerating to the point of misunderstanding the essentials. Judges sometimes do those things and I have know idea what they spend most of their work days doing (going to meetings, I'll bet, if they are like most of us) but their most essential role is judging. That's why they are called "judges."

Why doesn't she just kill herself? Maybe she wants to do something she knows, deep down, is wrong, and so she is afraid to do it. She may be afraid for other reasons besides the fact she knows it's wrong. Her husband loves her, more than anyone, he is a part of her. She trusts her husband implicitly. He would not hurt her. So she asks him to do it for her, to relieve herself of the responsibility.

The suicide is being selfish and cowardly, and the person who helps her is not acting in her best interest--he's not acting in a loving way. And the suicide is not acting in a loving way toward her husband by trying to make him a murderer. She is condemning him, and it wouldn't surprise anyone if he eventually committed suicide himself as a result of the feelings of guilt for what he had done.

S. did the right thing, for sure. We are to think that S. was being a coward by refusing to help his friend commit suicide but wouldn't it have been more cowardly of him to help his friend out of fear that his friend would be angry if he did not?

Steve P., the comment about the husband committing suicide later is, I think, spot-on. As a matter of fact (don't have time to look up the link right now) Britain has not that long ago had a murder-suicide case involving, believe it or not, a husband who killed his Alzheimer's patient wife with an axe so that she would not be a burden to his children. He had a fatal disease and was concerned about bequeathing the burden of his wife to others. So he killed her and then hung himself. When I blogged this, I found that some readers were not willing to condemn the husband's action.

In any event, I suspect that S. in the story above, when he found that he "just couldn't do it," was showing that he had a conscience. His reason given was fear of prosecution, but there was, I would wager, more at work there than that. Which is all to the good. When the law reinforces and backs up people's instincts that they "just can't do it" in a case where "it" is a grave evil, that's a good thing.

The suicide is being selfish and cowardly, and the person who helps her is not acting in her best interest--he's not acting in a loving way. And the suicide is not acting in a loving way toward her husband by trying to make him a murderer.

There are rare times when it seems like it would be merciful to assist a suicide, but those times are restricted to a deathbed request and providing the tools, i.e. not directly causing their death. On the other hand, it does imply a weakness of will and forethought in the person asking for assistance. If it was really so important they would have prepared themselves to do it on their own. So maybe it isn't important enough for them to receive assistance either.

Anyway, it is very difficult to cope with suffering in a loved one. One of the best essays I've ever read about dealing with terminal illness as a person instead of a patient circles around despair, but never gives in.
http://www.theamericanscholar.org/to-accept-what-cannot-be-helped/

Steve P., your 12:54 comment was incredibly funny. I haven't had a laugh that good in a while. Thank you.

Lydia, I think that there is something *severely wrong* with a world in which gassing one's wife to death could ever seem seem to any reasonable, well-intentioned person to be the least awful of the available alternatives. But that seems to be precisely the world we're stuck in.

Is Michael Bateman a moral monster? I don't think so. Am I a moral monster for not thinking so? I hope not.

Is Michael Bateman a moral monster? Yes.
Am I a moral monster for not thinking so? Maybe.
Simple answers to loaded questions, thank you very much.

Steve, I'm sorry, but I have to say that the road to moral monster-hood is sometimes paved with good intentions. The German doctors who killed disabled infants also had, in a sense that we could spell out, good intentions. Sometimes the parents even begged them to kill the children.

I don't think you, Steve, would now do what Michael Bateman did. I think there are natural "braking systems" in most of us that make us, like your friend S., just "not able to do" certain things, and all the more so when it's a matter of actually killing the other person outright oneself.

However, I think that mentally and verbally approving of a wicked action by another person is very bad for one's own conscience, and therefore I think it's a pretty serious and dangerous thing _for your sake_ that you (apparently) approve of what Bateman did.

Titus, I'm afraid I cannot agree with prosecutorial discretion in this class of cases. I imagine you wouldn't agree either if Michael had pumped in the gas _without_ Margaret's consent, or even if there were serious question of the family's lying about her consent.

If I can, I'll come back and reply to a long-dormant thread. I'm not saying that the prosecutor's use of discretion in this case is good. I simply observed that it is an indisputable fact that he has that discretion. At least in the United States, it is simply an accurate statement of law to say that a prosecutor cannot be compelled by judicial or legislative process to prosecute any particular individual (I highly suspect that a legislative directive to prosecute a named individual would constitute a bill of attainder). The crown prosecutor's decision may be bad; it certainly reflects poorly on the English judiciary. (It is at least possible to make charitable assumptions about the prosecutor, however.) But whether I "agree" with a prosecutor's use of his discretion or not does nothing to change the fact of its existence in each and every case.

Whoop-de-doo. So prosecutors have prosecutorial discretion. What would we all have to say if they exercised prosecutorial discretion systematically in murder cases when the victim was black? Hey, here's an idea: Perhaps a prosecutor could issue "guidelines" stating that it is probable that in cases where the victim is black, the prosecutor would not consider it "in the public interest" to prosecute. How would that go over? Do you think maybe we could, in America, start having some sort of "equal protection of the laws" issue there?

Titus, it seems to me that you are _willfully ignoring_ what I have explained about the English situation: This prosecutorial discretion is being exercised systematically and according to guidelines which the prosecutor's office itself issued at the behest of the high court. Those guidelines specified that this type of victim (of assisted suicide), in this type of case, would plausibly not be protected by the existing laws. This is not some sort of, "Oh, gee, maybe we don't have enough evidence to convict" judgment made on a case-by-case basis. This is a matter of simply knowing the history of this suicide issue in England. If you want to ignore it, you're free to do so in your own mind, but you're kind of wasting my time by making me repeat it over and over and then just uttering the phrase "prosecutorial discretion" (and maybe adding "charity") as if it makes these other facts disappear.

Post a comment


Bold Italic Underline Quote

Note: In order to limit duplicate comments, please submit a comment only once. A comment may take a few minutes to appear beneath the article.

Although this site does not actively hold comments for moderation, some comments are automatically held by the blog system. For best results, limit the number of links (including links in your signature line to your own website) to under 3 per comment as all comments with a large number of links will be automatically held. If your comment is held for any reason, please be patient and an author or administrator will approve it. Do not resubmit the same comment as subsequent submissions of the same comment will be held as well.