I’ve been taking a gander at this Ray Gosling situation, and I’m worried. On the face of it, it seems like a similar mercy killing to those that have made the news over the past few years (the recent acquittal of Kay Gilderdale for the attempted murder of her daughter, for example), which have caused much debate in the media and elsewhere on the morals and consequences of so-called “assisted dying”.
But from my point of view, there’s something incongruous between the act of Gosling smothering his AIDS-riddled lover with a pillow, and the overly theatrical way in which he explained it on the Inside Out programme, and his subsequent interview on Radio 5 Live in which, frankly, he sounded unhinged. No doubt the admission came as a great relief to him, a sudden release of the burden he’s been carrying around with him for years, but there was something about the way he explained it that made me very uncomfortable.
Maybe it’s just the way that some broadcasters emphasise sentences – I describe it as the “Disc Jockey Effect”. It’s a slightly unnatural way of speaking, like they’re in permanent game show host mode, and that’s certainly the way that Gosling sounded in the programme and interview. I’d almost call it a performance. But added to that was the terminology that Gosling used with Nicky Campbell on 5Live. He specifically referred to putting his lover down. Campbell reacted strongly to that, as you’d expect, and Gosling went on to say that “in this country we’re brought up straight-talking” (bizarrely I think he meant The North there, rather than England as a whole, which was interesting), and that he didn’t mean to use the word “killing”. Well, he didn’t. He said “put down” – a terminology that usually refers to killing animals humanely. If he didn’t misspeak, then that’s potentially quite illuminating.
My other problem is that, while the end-result is the same, actively smothering someone with a pillow seems to me to be quite different to simply handing them a bottle of pills. It’s a fine line between assisting someone to die, and actually carrying out the act of killing yourself. We only have Gosling’s word for it that there was “a pact” between the two men, and while I’m inclined to believe that the discussion did take place, there’s more scope for the dying party to change their mind in the pills scenario, than there is when being smothered by a pillow.
Phone-in shows over the past couple of days have been rife with talk of a “nudge and a wink” from doctors and nurses being commonplace in years past, with patients’ families being left in control of morphine drips for their dying loved ones. Medical professionals have also phoned in, though, to say that they’re outraged by such rumours and that such situations never occur. It’s unclear what the truth here is.
The issue of assisted dying is both complex and tragic for all concerned. Where is that line? Should the courts show compassion? Should these cases ever be prosecuted in the first place? The debate seems set to continue, and according to legal professionals, it seems unlikely that after all this time there would be the evidence for Gosling to be successfully prosecuted, even if the police wanted to.
Until the consequences of this incident become clear, though, I remain worried. I certainly feel compassion for Gosling’s terrible situation in which he felt it necessary to end his lover’s suffering, but I can’t help feeling that the theatrical way in which he presented the story, and the terminology used, seem to muddy the view that he simply did what he had to.