Leading article: A misguided intervention

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Nottinghamshire police had no choice but to arrest Ray Gosling yesterday after the veteran broadcaster's confession earlier in the week that he hastened the death of a young lover who was dying of Aids. However much one might respect Mr Gosling's frankness – or even sympathise with his actions – the police need to show that the law is being upheld. They had a duty to investigate.

And, in truth, this vague tale was not a good way for Mr Gosling to promote reform of Britain's euthanasia laws. He claims to have suffocated his dying lover with a pillow in a hospital and that "doctors do this all the time". Yet there is no evidence that medical staff routinely smother terminally ill patients. And even the common belief that doctors issue massive doses of morphine to end the lives of suffering patients appears to be something of a myth.

Pro-euthanasia campaigners have always accepted that any reforms will need to be accompanied by strict safeguards to ensure vulnerable patients are not killed by the unscrupulous, the incompetent or the deranged. But Mr Gosling's testimony conjured up an image of an arbitrary action by a non-relative, where no wish to hasten death by the patient had been recorded. It was a scene to provoke alarm among even the most ardent advocates of the "right to die". Of course, Mr Gosling would argue that he would like others in his situation to be spared having to take such drastic action. But the fact remains that his testimony is likely to polarise debate, rather than advance reform.

The intervention comes at a sensitive time. Last September, in response to a ruling by the Law Lords, the Director of Public Prosecutions set out, for the first time, the factors that are taken into consideration when it comes to bringing charges against relatives who assist family members in taking their lives.

It will probably have been the last thing he intended, but Mr Gosling's sad story will add weight to the argument that greater clarity in the law in this sensitive area is undesirable – and that the best guarantee of the rights of the vulnerable and the dignity of the terminally ill is legal greyness.

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