This week I discussed the case tragic case of the Mansfields in the Manchester Evening News. Last month, Graham was convicted of killing his wife Dyanne in a suicide pact at their home in Hale. Dyanne, his wife of 40 years, was suffering from terminal lung cancer, in what was described in court as ‘an act of love’, before attempting to kill himself. Here’s what I said:
Last week saw the sad consequences of the death of Dyanne Mansfield reach their final conclusion, when Graham Mansfield was acquitted of her murder by a jury at Manchester Crown Court. The suffering endured by the couple, as well as being a personal tragedy, highlights once again the desperate need to reform the UK’s outdated laws on assisted dying.
Graham ended the suffering of Dyanne, his beloved wife of 40 years, in terrible pain and distress from the end stages of terminal lung cancer, as result of a suicide pact they had made: when things got too bad, Graham would end Dyanne’s agony and then kill himself. It’s not the first time someone has felt the need to take desperate and devastating actions and it won’t be the last unless the law changes.
If Dyanne had made a clear choice in such circumstances to end her life, she should have had that option. No family should have to go through this.
And if we had a compassionate assisted dying law in the UK, none of this would have happened. Instead of a suicide pact behind closed doors with a tragic and traumatic end, there could have been a conversation. The family could have sat together in their own living room and discussed, openly, the options available to them.
This isn’t a lone case. Right now, as you read these words, a British pensioner is sitting in a prison in Cyprus facing a charge of murder. Janice Hunter, 75, allegedly begged her husband David to end the agony that had stripped her of any will to live.
David told police he had blocked his wife’s air passages until she died in his hands as part of a suicide pact aimed at relieving her of the immense pain caused by blood cancer. He then tried to end his own life, consuming prescription pills and alcohol.
In May this year, coroner David Ridley warned of an increase in suicide pacts between couples who want to die in the absence of an assisted dying law. He made these remarks during the inquest into the deaths of Claudia Forbes, 62, and her husband Andrew, 72.
How many more families need to go through this? By prosecuting people in such cases, we are putting trauma on top of trauma.
How can we as a society punish them for doing what their loved one asks them to do? The Crown Prosecution Service has guidelines around assisting a suicide that informs the police if they should charge someone.
They are currently evaluating these guidelines for suicide pacts and so-called ‘mercy killings’. But each police force interprets guidelines differently, leading to ambiguities and loopholes.
Nor will such guidelines prevent some families from concluding that such a pact is the best of a very bad set of options. An assisted dying law would remove all ambiguity around these types of cases and make them safer for everyone.
England and Wales will soon fall behind Scotland, Jersey, and Isle of Man, who are all currently legislating for assisted dying. How far behind these countries are England and Wales prepared to be?
Our country is happy routinely outsourcing compassion and empathy to Switzerland and see no issue with allowing UK nationals to end their lives on their terms abroad. Out of sight, out of mind? Frankly, it’s not good enough.
Let’s have a proper debate and move forward. Let’s look at the Mansfield, Hunter, Forbes, and other countless cases that are so tragically similar. Let’s look at what we can do better as a society. We owe it to them and we owe it to ourselves.