Thursday, 28 December 2017

“She was just doing a kind thing.” Should the British government become involved with Brits who knowingly commit, and are prosecuted for crimes abroad?

On Boxing Day a British woman,  Laura Plummer, was jailed for three years by an Egyptian court after being found guilty of smuggling drugs into the country.  

Plummer travelled to Egypt for a holiday with her boyfriend earlier this year and was found to be carrying 300 Tramadol tablets in her suitcase.  Tramadol is a prescription painkiller in the UK and is banned in Egypt.  In fact even in the UK Tramadol is considered to be a class C drug and as such its distribution to anyone other than the individual it has been prescribed for is illegal.  

In her defence Plummer claimed that she had taken the tablets over to give to her boyfriend who was suffering from severe back pain and that she was unaware of the law.  And this is a story which is being upheld by her supporters, who are calling for her release because, according to them, she just wanted to do a kind thing and fell fowl of the law and is being treated unfairly.  

Now I absolutely believe that if someone is wrongly imprisoned in another country our government should be in a position to intervene.  I also believe that in the event someone is imprisoned in another country with questionable human rights then the various human rights charities and organisations should become involved in order to secure their release.  The case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe who is currently being held in an Iranian prison for allegedly plotting to overthrow the Iranian government springs to mind here, and various organisations are involved in her case.  

However drug smuggling is an open and shut case.  The laws on these crimes are very clear, and ultimately if you are caught with illegal drugs then that is because you didn’t avail yourself of the laws in the country you were travelling to at the time you made the decision to pack over 300 illegal tablets into a suitcase and carry them into the country in question.  

I think that a lot of people have been Sympathetic to Ms Plummer because the drugs she was carrying were painkillers rather than illegal hard drugs.  As part of her defence she argued that the tablets were for her boyfriend who was suffering from back pain, and so her supporters would argue that all she did was take painkillers to a man for a medical condition.  However the fact that the drugs were illegal in Egypt stands regardless of what drugs they were.  And as a foreigner travelling into that country, it was her responsibility to know that, and to know that if she were caught, she would be liable to be prosecuted under the laws of that country.  This is a fact which has clearly not actually escaped Ms Plummer’s knowledge as she stated during her trial that it was a friend in the UK who had obtained the tablets for her, so still not taking personal responsibility for her part in the crime.  

I can see how, in some instances, many people are sympathetic to the plight of people who carry drugs.  Often if they are carrying them into the UK for instance they are travelling from countries where they are desperate to escape severe poverty, and as such are easy targets for drug dealers who use them as mules for their iffy products, often required to put their own lives at risk by being required to swallow packages of cocaine etc which are liable to burst causing instant death or serious illness.  The carrier is then merely a bi-product, easily sacrificed in the name of whatever drugs the dealer stands to profit from, and if they are caught they are the ones who go to jail, or worse, if they die because of a split package the dealer is never found and will simply find someone else for his next delivery.  

I absolutely still believe that these people should be brought to justice here in the UK.  However I can also see how desperation and often lack of education can lead someone into committing a crime from another country because they feel there is no other way out of a life of extreme poverty.  

But a Brit carrying prescription drugs to a country she has visited before, knowing the laws, knowing that she is carrying the drugs because they are illegal in the country is travelling to has no excuses, especially when you take into account that she was carrying 300 tablets, far more than are available on one single prescription.  

Laura Plummer knew exactly what she was doing. Perhaps she was coerced by what she thought was a charming boyfriend, although that’s assuming he actually was a boyfriend and that this is not merely a term being used as a cover for his being the dealer she was supplying to.  But the fact doesn’t change that she was aware that dealing drugs in Egypt carries a harsh prison term, and that the painkiller she carried into Egypt was available on prescription only, and as such, she knew they were illegal drugs as soon as she asked a friend to obtain them for her.  

Ms Plummer might also want to consider while she is spending time at the behest of the Egyptian judiciary, that the penalty for distribution of class C drugs in the UK is up to fourteen years in Prison.  And right now there are also calls for her to be prosecuted once she does come back to the UK.  

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Charly Gard - Should parents have the ultimate say in whether their child lives or dies?

Tonight judges at the European court of human rights have ruled that a ten month old baby should be kept on life support in order that his parents be given time to present evidence in order to allow him to travel to America for experimental treatment.  

Charly Gard  was born with Mitochondrial Depletion Syndrome which has left him unable to sea, hear, cry or move, and he has been on life support at the Great Ormond Street hospital in London since October 2016.   But doctors at the hospital feel that he should be allowed to die peacefully as there is no hope of any kind of recovery. 

The parents have been to court on numerous occasions in order to be allowed to take Charly to America for experimental treatment at a cost of over £1m, however doctors at GOSH have argued that this would not be in his interests and that any treatment would merely prolong his suffering and not reverse any existing brain damage.  

I think at this point it needs to be said that there are no winners in this case.  For a parent, allowing your child to die goes against every parental instinct you possess. No-one expects to out-live their child, and so actively making a decision to allow that child to die is something which most parents would never be able to anticipate having to do.  And for the doctors arguing that a peaceful death would be in Charly's best interests, this too goes against the oaths they sign up to when qualifying from medical school.  No doctor wants to be making the decision to switch off a baby's life support, let alone be the one having to do it. 

However, I think it can also be said that parents are very rarely able to make such decisions objectively, as this is their child they are talking about, and this is why these cases so often end up in the courts.  

So the question that we need to ask ourselves is: should a baby be kept alive because it is the parents' wish that he be kept alive?  When making decisions which make allowances for the withdrawal of treatments, should there not be only one outcome - what is in the best interests of the patient?  

I know that many people have argued that the decision should be the parents' to make, however can any parent really say that they could objectively make the right decision which was in the interests of their child and not based in some part on their own sense of loss or failure to be able to do something?  Even if logically there was nothing which could be done?  

And how many people wanting this baby to be kept alive, taken to America on a journey which he may not survive, and subjected to treatment which has no possibility of success other than potentially lengthening this baby's already difficult life?  A life where he is unable to communicate even whether he is in pain would want another adult to be making those same decisions about them or on their behalf?  I know I wouldn't.  

In conclusion, I hope that were I ever in the same position, I could make the right decision for my child, and I hope that were I in the same position as an adult, the other adults in my life would make the right decision for me.  

I only hope I never have to find out, and wish nothing but peace to Charly and his family.