February 28, 2024

The bioethics of torture

In the Australian state of Tasmania, an eminent oceanographer has received a 12-month suspended sentence after pleading guilty to the assisted suicide of his elderly mother in December 2002. The case was widely reported because 88-year-old Elizabeth Godfrey had been a local celebrity as a television chef. The euthanasia lobby was buoyed up by the light sentence and also by sympathetic remarks from Justice Peter Underwood. The judge said that John Godfrey had been motivated “solely by compassion and love” and suggested that people too ill to kill themselves deserved to be helped. In words which appeared to cast suicide as a human rights issue, he observed that such people were being “discriminated against by reason of their physical disability”.