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Dying and the law

Two very different current news stories both hinge on legal complexities in the relationship between death and the law.  In the case of the targeted drone attacks on British citizens Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin the focus is on how we interpret existing law and whether it is adequate for the realities of modern day conflict:

The PM said the “act of self defence” was lawful, despite MPs previously ruling out UK military action in Syria.

Labour is calling for ministers to publish the legal basis for the attack.

Some have challenged the legal and constitutional basis for this action:

[T]he former head of the British army Lord Dannatt has told Sky’s Adam Boulton that the killings did not comply with what had been authorised by Parliament.

And Kat Craig, legal director of Reprieve’s Abuses in Counter-Terrorism team, said: “Make no mistake – what we are seeing is the failed US model of secret strikes being copied wholesale by the British government.

“Ministers repeatedly promised Parliament and the public that there would be no military operations in Syria without Parliamentary approval.

“The fact that David Cameron has bypassed Parliament to commit these covert strikes is deeply worrying – as is his refusal to share what legal advice he was given.”

Here’s Carl Gardner’s judgement on the attack’s legality.   Although he concludes that it was justified, his decision rests on particular interpretations of legal provisions – so others might reach a different conclusion.

Some would argue that an armed attack has to be by a State, or attributable to one, before the UK can defend itself. Here, the RAF’s attack violated Syrian sovereignty but Khan’s plans, whatever they were, can’t obviously be blamed on the Syrian regime. But I don’t think this is a strong argument against the UK .

In any event, the insistence that self-defence can only be invoked against sovereign states seems to me unreal after 9/11. Either international law on the use of force is an ass, unfit for purpose in the 21st century; or its principles must be capable of application to today’s real threats to peace and security. I think the latter.

The Second Reading of Rob Marris’s Assisted Dying bill is scheduled for 11 September.  It has overwhelming popular support, and its critics are often portrayed as reactionary and blinkered, driven by a theological agenda.  A case in point is this editorial in the Independent, headlined:

Clerical interference: Religious leaders have a right to oppose the Assisted Dying Bill – the secular majority has a right to ignore them.

However the points raised in the faith leaders’ joint letter are not narrowly religious, and include concerns about the changed doctor/patient relationship and pressures on people who feel they may become a burden.  The BMA (though not of course all doctors) oppose assisted dying as do other groups with relevant expertise such as Scope.  Some individual cases will strongly incline people to support the bill, but others may counterbalance these – the linked to letter is a useful reminder that doctors cannot always accurately predict life expectancy. There are clearly many reasons to support the bill (or something like it) but this debate isn’t between the self-evidently correct on the one hand and dogmatic fundamentalists on the other.