Champion of assisted suicide under criminal investigation

Revelations that a ‘champion’ for the euthanasia cause has been found to have a violent and abusive history have disrupted, for the moment at least, the extensive media campaign being run by a news outlet in the United Kingdom to change the law on euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The Sunday Times unquestioningly promoted Douglas Laing, a retired Army nurse who wrote a letter to the paper, confessing that he’d given his first wife a lethal injection.  

Mr Laing said he was “willing to ‘take whatever was coming’ after writing the letter to contribute to the debate on assisted dying”.

In his letter, he wrote that he was in tears as he recalled a conversation with his wife, who stated she was ‘ready to die’ following her diagnosis of terminal ovarian cancer. He wrote as follows to the newspaper: 

“I have struggled with what I did and only recently spoken to close family about it. I wanted to make my actions public knowledge in support of the move to legalise assisted dying. Taking the brave decision she did allowed my wife to say goodbye to our two sons while she was able to, and allowed us to have a final cuddle. Then she was gone.  

“I know the consequences and it doesn’t bother me a jot.”

The dilemma for the Sunday Times however, is that they have promoted Mr Laing and his story as part of their push to win over the public in the United Kingdom in support of changing the law on euthanasia and assisted suicide.

As commentator Simon Caldwell has highlighted:

“SINCE last summer that great watchdog of our liberties, the Sunday Times, has fervently campaigned for the legalisation of assisted suicide.

“Barely a week goes by without its running a story planted by Dignity in Dying (formerly known as the Voluntary Euthanasia Society) or its acolytes, invariably without any balancing comments from any of the dozen or so groups run by disabled people who ardently oppose such a law.

“Cancelling the voices of the weak and vulnerable while giving carte blanche to euthanasia activists is misguided, and the Sunday Times has now compounded its misjudgement by championing the case of Douglas Laing, a former Army nurse who admitted to the newspaper that he administered a lethal injection to his cancer-stricken first wife in 1998 at her behest”.

The Sunday Times were horrified when, following their story, police began to investigate Douglas Laing. They published articles that labelled the investigation “idiotic” and said it was a “‘wrong-headed and pointless’ waste of police time”.

Another UK outlet, Private Eye magazine, noticed that something was missing from the Sunday Times reporting.

Laing movingly described to the paper the events that led up to her death and said that although he now “has a new partner” he is “not going to get married again”.

However there was one bit of context to Laing’s story the Sunday Times failed to provide. In 2017, Laing was a Tory distinct councillor for his home town of Chudleigh in Devon when he attacked his second wife Susan with a mallet at their home, seriously injuring her. He was given a three-year sentence after he admitted wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

Did the Sunday Times simply fail to spot this part of Laing’s back story, or did its editor believe the news of his second marriage and how it ended might not be on-message for its Dying with Dignity campaign?

The controversy serves to highlight the dangers of media reporting that takes a position on a social issue and then uses personal stories to win over public opinion, without providing full context or differing viewpoints. Mr Laing’s credibility is incredibly compromised by the later revelations of his violent crime against his second wife. This is important information for the public to be apprised of when making up their own minds about an issue. The media campaigns in support of euthanasia and assisted suicide are powered by emotive personal stories of ‘bad deaths’ of loved ones. However, without full context or indeed without any ‘balancing comments’ from opposing viewpoints, it can hardly be described as robust public debate of this divisive and controversial issue.  

Without the subsequent investigation of Mr Laing, his story as related to the Sunday Times would have been just another of the many ‘personal’ and ‘emotive’ stories used by the media to promote these dangerous laws. How much other such detail or context is being kept from the public? Would public support continue if media organisations provided balanced and thorough coverage of the issue?

Mr Laing’s story has meant that the Sunday Times has inadvertently let the cat out of the bag, revealing the truth that legalising euthanasia gives opportunity to numerous potential misuses and violations, and risks the lives and safety of some of society’s most vulnerable members.