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Should Ian Brady have been given the “right to die”?

  Wednesday 10th July 2013
  Wednesday 10th July 2013

After prolific serial killer Ian Brady failed to convince authorities to transfer him from maximum security Ashworth Hospital to a Scottish prison where he would be able to end his own life via hunger strike, the controversial topic has been widely discussed and debated.

Serious questions that Brady’s recent trial has raised are largely ethical and many have struggled to come up with answers to questions like “How can a man who ignored the pleas for mercy from children as young as 10, taking away their right to live and abusing them in numerous cruel and brutal ways, demand his own right to die in the way that he chooses?” and “What rights is he really entitled to after the mother of one of his victims died without ever knowing where her son was buried?”

Referred to in the past as “the face of evil”, Ian Brady’s recent revelations that he used “method acting” to be diagnosed as mentally ill – and therefore avoid prison – have caused many to readdress the horrific crimes that he committed. A question on most of the minds of those who followed the trial was whether or not he really deserves the right to die by starving himself if ever returned to prison.

Since being imprisoned for the infamous moors murders, Brady has repeatedly insisted that he be allowed to end his own life. A BBC ALBA documentary made some years ago entitled “Ian Brady- The right to die” explored the notions of prisoners’ rights and whether or not a murderer of Brady’s proportions be given any rights at all. 

The eight day hearing that took place in June and during which Brady appeared before a mental health tribunal, was the first time that he had been seen by the public in decades and allowed him to give evidence in person.

Despite the claims that he wished to have the “right to die”, some have suggested that the issue at the heart of the case that Brady fought was not having his right to die given back to him but was largely about regaining control of the situation.

Back in March 2000, a judge called Brady’s hunger strike part of an “obsessive need to exercise control”. Authority figures at Ashworth Hospital have reportedly expressed similar views and believe that the refusal to eat is more an attempt at exerting control than a genuine hunger strike.

Indeed, during the tribunal Brady dodged questions regarding whether or not he was eating, eventually saying that he wasn’t despite evidence from hospital staff who stated that he eats “most days”.

Arguing that whether he was eating or not wasn’t important, Brady said that what really mattered was proving his sanity. He stated: “That is what I am here to prove so I can get on with going to prison. My plans are nothing to do with anyone else.”

It is also reported that Brady would not give an answer to a direct question regarding whether or not he intended to kill himself if he was returned to prison.

Despite Brady’s supposed determination to die, the families of his victims have – unsurprisingly – repeatedly expressed their wishes that he should be forced to remain alive and in Ashworth.

Alan Bennett, the brother of Keith Bennett whose body was sadly never found, explained his thoughts on the tribunal. He said: “Should he be granted his wish to leave Ashworth Hospital and be sent to prison? I am happiest knowing Brady will be at his unhappiest. I know he hates Ashworth and I cannot be sure he would feel the same about any other place he may be sent to. Besides that, I do not think he should be allowed to move just because he wants to.”

Interestingly, Alan Bennett referred to the hunger strike as “nothing more than another publicity stunt,” adding: “his claims of wanting the right to starve himself to death is also nothing more than a further self-pitying PR”. Mr Bennett expressed the view that if Brady does in fact want to return to prison “it is solely in the hope that he will be transferred to a segregation unit to be with people like himself”. 

Terry Kilbride, the brother of another victim John Kilbride, expressed a similar view and spoke sceptically about the intention that Brady had to go on a hunger strike resulting in his death:

“I don’t believe he’s going to kill himself, that’s just another ploy, just another wind up,” adding that “I think to be honest he should go back to hospital, I think that’s where he belongs, in the hospital, and keep him alive as long as possible because it’s only him that knows where Keith Bennett is”.

Following the decision to refuse Brady’s request, medical director at Ashworth Dr David Fearnley stated that Brady is “in the right place to receive the right treatment by the right people”. Reasons for the decision reached by the tribunal will be released at a later date.

Regardless of whether or not Brady intended to starve himself if returned to prison, the real controversy surrounding the case arguably stems from the fact that a man who committed the most horrendous of crimes with no semblance of remorse believes he should possess the right to move from one location to another for personal fulfilment. The general consensus, from both the tribunal, families of victims and even members of the general public, is that Brady should remain where he is and indeed “at his unhappiest”.      

Molly Kersey


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