A CHARITY campaigning for a change in the law to allow assisted dying for the terminally ill has described a Sheffield ‘mercy killing’ case as “terribly sad”.
The organisation Dignity in Dying spoke out after 73-year-old George Webb, of Luke Lane, Wadsley, was freed from prison after challenging the two-year jail term imposed when he was found guilty of the manslaughter of his wife Beryl, 75, on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
He smothered his sleeping wife with a plastic bag and towel after claiming she begged him to help her die because she had suffered ill health for years.
At the Court of Appeal judges overturned his jail sentence and imposed a 12-month suspended sentence in its place.
In a statement issued at the end of the hearing, Dignity in Dying said: “We are not calling for the legalisation of ‘mercy killing’, but we are calling for more distinction to be made in the law between assisted dying, assisted suicide, euthanasia and murder.
“An assisted dying law with upfront safeguards would allow open conversations between patients and their medical team about their wish to die. This would provide an opportunity for any unmet needs to be identified and addressed, as well as providing support for the loved ones of those asking for help to die.
“Dignity in Dying would like to see a law which allows the choice of assisted dying for people who are terminally ill and mentally competent.
“For cases which fall outside of this framework we would like to see a compassionate law to cover cases of ‘mercy killing’, which allows flexibility so sentencing can reflect the motivation for the crime, and any extenuating circumstances.”
Overturning Webb’s prison sentence at the Court of Appeal, Lord Judge said it was a “tragic case” and that reducing the sentence would not undermine the “sanctity of human life” but allow Webb to “come to terms” with what had happened. The pensioner was said to have been suffering depression himself.
The judge said: “It is clear from the evidence the mental turmoil engendered by the impossible situation in which he found himself must have been dreadful.”
The court heard the Webbs had become increasingly isolated and lived together in their “own bubble”. Mrs Webb had “reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision” to end her life, said Lord Judge.
He added: “In acting as he did, Mr Webb was motivated not so much by compassion for her, but by a desire to enable her to achieve what she had decided she wanted to do.
“We remind ourselves of the turmoil which he must have suffered as he committed the last fatal act.”