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Dignity in Dying comment on Mr Webb case

On the sad case of Mr Webb, who smothered his 75-year-old wife in a ‘mercy killing’, being freed from a two-year jail sentence by the Court of Appeal, Dignity in Dying said:

“This terribly sad case demonstrates why both the law relating to ‘mercy killing’, and the law on assisted dying must change, and we are pleased that the Court of Appeal has acted with compassion in reducing Mr Webb’s sentence today, in order that, in the words of the judgment “this lonely old man may receive that help that he will need to come to terms with the disaster that has overtaken him.”

“Dignity in Dying is 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; the law of murder, primarily used to convict people who act maliciously and out of self-interest does not apply in the same way to the case of Mr and Mrs Webb.

“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. In this case it seems that at the time of her death, Mrs Webb wrongly believed her cancer had returned. A safeguarded assisted dying process would have ensured Mrs Webb and her husband understood the reality of her medical situation.

“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 that sentencing can reflect the motivation for the crime, and any extenuating circumstances.”