Your editorial of 25th June makes interesting reading and raises some very valid points.
While murder should continue to attract the most serious of penalties there does need, to sit alongside this, an understanding that the circumstances of how the death came about needs to be considered when sentencing the offender.
Perhaps killing those who protect us – police officers, fire officers, nurses, etc. – should be treated at the extreme end of any sentencing range alongside those acts where the offender set out armed with gun, knife or machete without a plan to kill but equipped to carry out a killing if necessary.
You raise the issue of assisting a suicide or, as you put it “helping someone die in an act of mercy”. Setting to one side the issues of faith and the sanctity of life, the determining factor here will be the nature of the action taken to assist the death. Is the act carried out that which brings about, directly, the death, or is it one that is simply preparatory or enabling?
In one recent UK case, even where a mother admitted administering drugs directly into her daughter, suffering from the most debilitating example of Myalgic Encephalopathy, wanting to ensure her life was ended, a jury found her not guilty of attempting to kill her. While the decision making process of juries is also of interest, in this case one can argue that it was the jury that mitigated the mother’s actions in the only way they could – by finding her not guilty – when the law should have recognised these particular circumstances as being radically different from the shooting robber or the knife wielding drug dealer.
However, in the matter of sentencing for murder, perhaps a more challenging issue is around one that stems from domestic abuse. For example, if a woman suffers years of repeated and catastrophic violence and, with some forethought and planning, kills her abuser, she would be guilty of murder.
Surely, under such circumstances, while the state cannot condone her actions it must, providing there is sufficient evidence to support her claims of the nature and seriousness of the abuse, recognise that these circumstances are far different from those of the cold calculated killer who murders for gain.
It is time for everyone to engage in these debates and consider allowing the sentencing judge to set a minimum term based, not on their personal views, but on the circumstances of each case. Where a judge sets a tariff that is considered too high or too low, there would always be a route of appeal.
We certainly don’t want juries to have to take on the burden by finding not guilty those who are guilty.