We must show compassion and let Ian Brady die

`Although he has shown no contrition, it must be terrible to live a life so debased that he finds his own crimes acceptable'
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The Independent Culture
IAN BRADY'S fight for the right to die rumbles on, as does the effort to continue his life by force-feeding him with a glucose solution administered through a tube inserted through his nose into his stomach. Wednesday saw the submission to the Department of Health of the Inquiry report into the allegations of mistreatment that sparked his hunger strike.

The report, carried out by Professor David Sines of the South Bank University, deals with various complaints by Brady dating back to September, when he was moved from Ashworth's relatively calm Jade Ward where he had been since the mid-Eighties, to the notoriously chaotic Laurence Ward. The move was prompted by the discovery of a metal bucket handle taped under a sink in Jade's laundry room. Conflicting reports allege that the handle was untouched or that it had already been fashioned into a dagger, and that the handle had been there for Brady's use, or that it had been put there by another prisoner wishing to attack him.

Whatever the truth of the matter, it is clear that Brady was removed from his cell by officers in black Balaclavas wearing riot gear. He was held in an armlock for, he says, an hour. He alleges that his wrist was broken during his removal, while prison doctors say that he suffered a chipped bone.

It was in protest against the move, on 30 September, that he began his hunger strike. On 29 October his first force-feeding was ordered, and this, as well as the method by which it was administered, has joined Brady's roster of complaints.

While the British prison service does not force-feed, Brady is being "re-fed" under the Mental Health Act. He was certified insane following a nervous breakdown after a long period in solitary confinement. According to his solicitor, Robin Makin, Brady "wants the right to starve himself to death, and we are fighting for his wishes to be acknowledged. If you are assaulted or force-fed when people have no right to do that, then you take legal action against those incidents."

Meanwhile, Myra Hindley is also reported as not having long to live. She has been having chest pains, diagnosed as angina, which are attributed to her heavy smoking. Unless she stops smoking, starts exercising and makes use of various forms of medication including a nitrate puffer, she will be dead within three years.

Hindley is refusing to act on clinical advice and is not taking the medication offered to her. In her case no intervention is considered necessary to augment her life. Hindley's right to die goes unchallenged, not only because she is "sane" while he is "insane", but also because he is actively refusing the means of life while she is merely inhaling a legal poison which is acknowledged to be a killer.

It is a particularly complex moral maze, this question of a prisoner's "right to die", and as ever in the case of Brady and Hindley, the parents of the victims of their crimes have been consulted by the media as to what should be done. While they are of course the people whose opinions must be considered to count the least, for the terrible crimes against their children have rendered them incapable of offering impartial and just prognostications on this matter, the breakdown of opinions among them does help to shed light on the matter.

Only Winnie Johnson, the mother of Keith Bennett, has made a strong plea for Brady to be kept alive. Her son's is the only body which has not been recovered, and she says that he must be made to live until he reveals its whereabouts. This is not likely ever to happen as Brady did co-operate in the efforts to recover the body conducted by Chief Superintendant Peter Topping in 1987. Even then he tried to barter his help against a dispensation for him to commit suicide, a request necessarily denied by Topping.

All of the other parents who have spoken would prefer it if Brady were allowed to die, although Norman Brennan, of the Victims of Crime Trust, who has spoken for some years on behalf of the family of Lesley Ann Downey, wants his life to continue. "He is paying the price for his despicable crimes, and that price is a life sentence."

And this is where the strange dilemma lies. While I am passionately against capital punishment as barbaric and uncivilised, I also find the idea that people should be kept alive against their will in order that they can continue to be punished, equally barbaric. It is curious that those who believe in capital punishment and those who believe in euthanasia can, in this case, wish for a similar outcome for such very different reasons.

The issue is further clouded by suspicions about Brady's motivations. While young women on remand for television licence offences seem able to find the means to kill or maim themselves while in prison with shocking regularity, Brady does not. Nevertheless he has been on "suicide watch" for the past year, after a cache of 200 sleeping tablets was found in his cell. This many tablets would suggest that he had achieved the means of taking his own life long before his subterfuge was discovered. One wonders if he might be planning to celebrate the winning of his legal battle for the right to die with a large plate of prison grub.

Brady claims always to have been motivated by a hatred of all the normal standards of society, and in a recent letter to the BBC expressed the view that he was not "even remotely interested in living another 20 or 30 years merely to provide employment for an over-manned army of penal bureaucrats and prison warders".

His continuing anger at his incarceration and long-held lack of regret over his crimes do suggest that he is truly insane. But his wish to die, if indeed he really does want to do so, may perhaps be the most sane decision he has ever made. It may, however, be a clever attack on the prison service he hates so much. He has the officials at Ashworth over a barrel. Two inquiries have called for the closure of the troubled facility, and its staff are under tremendous pressure. The dilemma which has been created by Brady has thrown the prison into more chaos, a situation which is bound to bring him great satisfaction.

But all the same, his is a case which will have important implications. If he is granted the right to die, then a precedent will be set whereby those who have no hope of release will be able to argue for an end to their lives too. Just as legislation around euthanasia has loosened up enough for a blind eye to be turned to the hastening of death by the administration of dangerous quantities of morphine, then so will legislation around the criminally insane.

It is hard to talk of pity in reference to those such as Brady and Hindley, for their crimes are so abhorrent that such talk angers many people. But while it is much easier to say this when one has not oneself suffered great loss in such a fashion, surely all of those who commit acts of such inhumane cruelty must be held to be worthy of our pity as well as our blame? Although Brady has shown no contrition for his crimes, I still feel that it must be terrible to be him, and to live a life so debased that the committing of such crimes is in his own mind acceptable.

I do believe that Brady should be allowed to die, but also believe that such a decision should be utterly distanced from talk of capital punishment and vengeance, and instead aligned with the compassion of euthanasia, and the desire to stop human suffering if the victim vehemently wishes it and if it is in our power to do so. For some an act of compassion towards Brady is unthinkable. For others, it is the benchmark by which we can count ourselves against those we consider "evil" and, instead, on the side of right and decency and humanity.