Law enforcement types are well aware of the phenomenon called “Death by Cop.” Death by Cop is a way for some disturbed people to commit suicide without having to do the deed themselves. Do something threatening and dangerous in front of officers with their weapons drawn, and off you go.
I think we need a new term: Death by Following Orders.
Two years ago, 26 year-old Kerrie Wooltorton killed herself by drinking auto antifreeze mixed with soda. By most accounts Kerrie had severe psychological problems of depression and suicidal ideation. As best anyone can piece together, it was mostly related to a medical condition that meant she could not have children. She had tried to commit suicide before but had always been revived by hospitals and doctors who got to her in time.
But Kerrie was determined to die – if only she could stop herself from getting saved. So Kerrie figured out how to do Death by Following Orders.
Here’s how she did it:
Kerrie knew that for the last several years the UK has been immersed in the assisted suicide and euthanasia debate. She surely watched as the pro-death lobby chipped away at the age-old social taboo of assisted suicide and euthanasia.
Kerrie also knew that in 2005 the UK’s Mental Capacity Act had introduced living wills (advanced directives) whereby those with terminal illnesses, as long as they were of right mind, could legally decline any or all future medical treatment. She also knew that if the directive was valid, its conditions had to be respected by all medical personnel under penalty of civil prosecution or even criminal charges.
Kerrie, in her psychological and emotional turmoil, got desperately and horribly creative. She was determined to kill herself but she didn’t want to suffer and she didn’t want to die alone.
So, three days before her death, she wrote out her advance directive that should she be admitted to a hospital for any reason, she would (legally) refuse all treatment.
The die was cast.
On September 18th, 2007, Kerrie drank the antifreeze and then called an ambulance. At the hospital she presented her advance directive to the staff. As the Telegraph noted:
The will said that if she called for an ambulance it was not because she wanted life-saving treatment but because she did not want to die in her flat alone or in pain.
She died the following day.
Last week an inquest ruled that the doctors and hospital had acted exactly as the law intended in not treating Kerrie because had they done so, they would have been committing an illegal act. Here’s Coroner William Armstrong’s cold observation:
She had capacity to consent to treatment which, it is more likely than not, would have prevented her death. She refused such treatment in full knowledge of the consequences and died as a result.
Kerrie followed the rules.
The hospital followed the rules.
The doctors followed the rules.
The law ordered that Kerrie should die.
Kerrie knew that.
The hospital knew that.
The doctors knew that.
Tragically, Kerrie got everything she wanted.
She didn’t die alone.
She didn’t die in pain.
Death by Following Orders, indeed.