LAST WEEK, doctors decided to switch off the machine keeping Carol Wilkinson alive — at least what was left of her after she had suffered a most brutal attack and left for dead.
It was stated that while Carol could be kept breathing, there was no hope whatsoever of there being any recovery of the brain, and so the machine was switched off and Carol was allowed to die.
The decision was announced on television. I was concerned not that there were questions as to whether the right decision had been taken: whether the doctors and the coroner and the police and the family had reached the correct and just decision, but that it was taken for granted.
The main argument was the effect of this decision upon the charges to be faced by the person who had committed this heinous crime when he is captured — should he be captured.
There was an interesting debate on whether the criminal could rightly be charged with murder because the defence could argue that had the machine not been turned off, death may not have taken place within a year and a day of the incident happening, a necessary condition for a murder charge.
It was all very interesting, and very good for an aspiring student taking a criminal law paper, but scarcely relevant to the more important issue, the issue of life and death.
Readers will recall how important an issue it is because of the reports in last week's Catholic Herald of a doctor, the proprietress of an old people's home, and an American hospital director all supporting the idea of a death pill, euthanasia.
However, those involved with turning off the switch that was keeping Carol Wilkinson alive were very different in attitude to the proprietress of the home for the retired in the South of England, She was quoted in last week's paper as saying: "It should be carried out with the utmost quiet — no fuss, no timeconsuming consultations ... I favour the relatives not being consulted".
What is certain is that the procedures .surrounding the decision to switch off the machine must by any criteria be accepted as being the only method which a decision can be taken to end a human life, It must be deliberate and proper, not with minimal consultations. The termination of human life is too important a matter to be
relegated to a hole-in-thecorner action to be performed quietly and without fuss.
That the proper procedures were obviously followed in Carol Wilkinson's case is obvious, My fear is that Carol Wilkinson's case could become too frequent, like the death of a soldier in Northern Ireland, or abortions — all taken for granted. Then there will be cause cause for The concern is that the line between making a decision to switch off a machine, or even plug one in, becomes not a question of principle but a question of degree and a matter of haEbivte.n the statement that no
man has a right to take the life of another is not absolute, and as the problems start being posed the line can become thinner and weaker, the ability to hold a hard-and-fast position becomes more and more difficult. Appeals are made to mercy, to justice and to common humanity.
Invery difficult areas of morality, men of the utmost integrity can reach conflicting decisions.
Despite arguments to the contrary, which I understand and for which I have some sympathy, it is right despite the pain and suffering which must have been caused to Carol Wilkinson's family by the brutal attack and the surrounding publicity that the decision to switch off the life-support machine system was taken with maximum publicity.
It is necessary that the decision should be taken with the full knowledge of the family and the coroner, the police, the consultants and the hospital staff. It is most important that the public should be assured that all the safeguards were observed.
It is only a hairline crack which separates the humane sympathy. to put a person out of his/her misery from the greed of the heir and selfishness of those who think only of the inconvenience of having to look after another person.
It is only in the knowledge that decisions taken in such a way are open to public scrutiny that we can be certain that the euthanasia enthusiast will be restrained from the next step the getting rid of the old, the unwanted, the mentally infirm, the physically handicapped.