Wednesday 23 August 2023

The Lucy Letby case is troubling because she's so normal


I have been troubled by the Lucy Letby case. There is an extraordinary length of time between her being arrested and convicted. The trial itself lasted a very long time and the jury’s deliberations took a long time too. Clearly it was a complex case.

The evidence of her crime is mainly circumstantial. NHS managers on being presented with some of this evidence chose initially to exonerate Letby. The doctors who had complained about Letby were accused of misconduct and victimisation. But essentially this same evidence has been used to send Letby to a whole life term in prison. But if it was good enough to exonerate her, how can it also be good enough to convict her?

Complex medical evidence was presented from autopsies of the babies, but there were no witnesses to Letby’s crimes and there has been no confession. But we know from previous cases that medical evidence can be unreliable. What is left is some scraps of paper with messages that might be confessions but might not.

The jury heard all of the evidence, the rest of us have read only some of it in the newspapers. I’m left feeling that there is a ninety per cent and above chance that Letby is guilty. What other explanation is there for the death of all those babies? But in any trial, that is this complex and which takes so long there must be a slight uncertainty. If for this reason only better that there is no death penalty even when a case is horrific.

What troubles me more about the case however is not so much the guilt of Letby, but that behaviour similar to hers has become routine in the NHS.

Premature babies who are born as early as 22 weeks after gestation can survive. If Letby had killed any of these babies she would rightly have been convicted of murder. But it is routine in the NHS to kill babies in the womb right up to 24 weeks and under certain circumstances after that.

There was recently outrage at the prison sentence given to a woman who took an abortion pill when the child was 32-34 weeks after gestation. Later she was released from prison.

But then we are in the position that someone who murders a premature baby in an incubator goes to prison as a serial kill for a whole life term, but if that baby happens to be in a womb rather than an incubator it can be killed with impunity. There must be doctors who have killed hundreds of babies at 24 weeks and later, but no one suggests that they go to prison.

I am not particularly making a point about abortion. The issue in murder is whether you are killing a human being.

Killing people is murder,
Babies in the womb are people,
Therefore killing babies in the womb is murder.

We accept that premature babies are people. If not, Lucy Letby would not have been convicted of murder. But if a 22 weeks after gestation baby in an incubator is a person, how can a baby at exactly the same stage in a womb not be a person?

It may be reasonable to argue that in the first weeks after conception that it is not seriously wrong to terminate a pregnancy. You might reasonably argue that this does not involve killing a person. But you cannot both convict Lucy Letby of killing people (premature babies) when you are outraged that someone else goes to prison for killing a baby that would have been 10 to 12 weeks older.

Being in an incubator or being in a womb has no moral significance. It does not give personhood to the baby in the incubator while taking it away from the baby in the womb.

It is morally senseless to suppose that a woman can decide to kill a baby that could survive outside her womb. In that case rather than kill it why not remove it from her womb surgically and put it in an incubator?

I have no moral problem at all with women having the right to decide not to be pregnant, but the right to choose must be limited by time. It cannot involve the right to kill another human being even if that human being is in your womb. It especially cannot involve killing that human being when it could survive outside the womb. There can be no moral right to murder. There can be no choice either.

Something remarkable however happens at birth. Suddenly doctors and nurses and parents expect to go to inordinate lengths to keep alive babies who either because of being born prematurely or because of having severe disability would otherwise die.

A few weeks earlier the severely disabled baby would have been aborted without a thought, but now experimental treatments must be tried, money must be raised to send the baby to a hospital in the USA. Is the difference simply because we can now see the baby while previously it was hidden in a womb?

The key is to be born. While in the womb any baby can be killed almost for any reason and quite possibly nearly up to 9 months. Society and the law somehow think the process of being born turns us into a human being. But this is clearly nonsense. There is no difference between a premature baby and a baby at the same stage in the womb. If one is a person, then so is the other.

So, we’ve made it past birth. We then live our life. We are human beings. If someone kills us, they are liable to be convicted of murder or manslaughter. But look at what happens when we get old, we once again become foetuses. We once again cease to be human beings.

This is the other aspect of the Lucy Letby case that really troubles me. I mentioned recently that my aunt had to go into hospital with an infection. She was sitting up doing the Telegraph crossword one day, the next we were told that she had been put on the Liverpool Pathway of palliative care and would die soon. There was nothing that could be done as once started it couldn’t be stopped.

I had a huge response from people with similar experiences. I have no problem with palliative care. If I had terminal cancer, I would want to be given enough painkillers to ease the pain even if they hastened my death.

But the NHS treats elderly people quite differently to newborn babies. While it goes to inordinate lengths to keep a very premature baby with disabilities alive, it neglects the elderly, does not want to resuscitate them even if they could be saved, and will use the first sign of deterioration to end their life even when with a little effort the elderly person could live for years longer.

I wanted to call the police when my aunt died. But what would have been the point. The doctors and nurses would have all backed each other up. I resolved instead to avoid hospitals if I get to be elderly. They are like the dying room in All Quiet on the Western Front next to the mortuary. Don’t go there. If you are there get out if you can. Pray that they don't legalise euthanasia. 

But elderly people are certainly human beings. Yet they are treated as if they were foetuses and aborted. While there is reasonable debate about how long after gestation a foetus may be aborted, there is no debate at all that an elderly person is a person. So, aborting the elderly is clearly murder.

Both in Scotland and the UK generally elderly patients were sent from hospital to care homes to protect the NHS. No one thought to protect either the elderly patients or the people in the care homes that they would infect. The people who made this decision were responsible for the deaths of thousands of elderly people, but no one will be charged with manslaughter, and no one will be prosecuted.

Doctors and nurses in the NHS routinely kill human beings prior to birth who could have survived in incubators. They also routinely kill elderly people who are in the way and who cost too much to care for.

I think Lucy Letby is probably guilty of murdering babies, but she worked in hospitals where routinely doctors and nurses kill their fellow human beings and get away with it. Perhaps it is for this reason she thought she would get away with it too. It must be a temptation to play God when the NHS is so worshipped.