Inequitable questions

Feb 16th, 2010 | By | Category: Cross Channel

A Google search for the death of King George V suggests a reluctance on the part of the British media to comment upon the circumstances of the British monarch’s final days.  The New York Times online archive has its report from 1986 of the revelation, fifty years after the event, that George V’s doctor hastened his end.

As he lay comatose on his deathbed in 1936, King George V was injected with fatal doses of morphine and cocaine to assure him a painless death in time, according to his physician’s notes, for the announcement to be carried ”in the morning papers rather than the less appropriate evening journals.”

The New York Times report on the physician’s notes suggest he believed  such a conclusion was the conscious decision of the Royal Family:

Lord Dawson’s notes assert that he had been told by Queen Mary and the Prince of Wales – the playboy son who was to become Edward VIII and, less than a year later, would abdicate and become the Duke of Windsor – that they did not want the King’s life needlessly prolonged if his illness was clearly fatal. There is no indication that the King himself had been consulted.

Dawson’s biography was written in 1950, five years after his death, but, at the request of his widow, all references to the deliberate ending of the king’s life were omitted from the book.

1950 was a mere fourteen years after the death of the king.  If Dawson’s biographer was aware of the truth of the events; not a few others must have been aware of the euthanasia at the Palace, yet no-one seems to have been interviewed by police.  There were no news reports of anyone raising any questions about what had happened, even when Dawson raised views that would have been radical in the 1930s.

The 1986 report in the New York Times goes on to report Dawson’s participation in a debate in the House of Lords:

It is not clear from the notes how explicit Lord Dawson was in the exchange he reported with the Queen and Prince about the method of ending the King’s life, or whether this conversation had been initiated by the family or the physician. But there is circumstantial evidence, in a speech Lord Dawson delivered in the House of Lords in a debate on euthanasia 10 months later, to suggest that the discussion could have been prompted by the doctor. ‘Mission of Mercy’

The royal physician spoke against a bill that would have legalized the practice but he did so without condemning euthanasia. Instead, describing it as a ”mission of mercy,” he argued it was a matter best left to the conscience of individual physicians rather than official regulators.

”One should make the act of dying more gentle and more peaceful even if it does involve curtailment of the length of life,” he told his fellow peers. ”That has become increasingly the custom. This may be taken as something accepted.”

Calling for a ”gentle growth of euthanasia,” rather than a removal of all restraints by legislation, Lord Dawson went on to say, ”If we cannot cure for heaven’s sake let us do our best to lighten the pain.” . . .

. . . Similar reasoning was reflected in the notes he made after the King’s death. ”It was evident,” the physician said, ”that the last stage might endure for many hours, unknown to the patient but little comporting with the dignity and the serenity which he so richly merited and which demanded a brief final scene.”

The controversy surrounding Ray Gosling’s revelation that he brought to an end the life of his terminally ill former lover may not bring much progress in discussion of care of the dying, what it does point to is inequality before the law.  In the 1930 legally restrictive 1930s, Dawson was never called to account for what a later biographer of George V described as ‘murder’.  Were Gosling a member of more exalted circles in the much more permissive 21st Century, it seems hard to imagine he would be interviewed.

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  1. At the risk of treating a serious subject too flippantly – I have always relished George V’s reputed last dying words, when it was suggested to the King that he might recuperate in his favourite watering place – ‘Bugger Bognor!’

    When my time comes, I pray I may be attended by medical staff who I know and trust, and that they will treat me as I would wish to be treated.

  2. I know I would not wish to linger in terrible pain.

  3. It will be interesting to see how the Gosling story pans out. I can fully understand his actions (if indeed he did what he says he did), but not why he decided to ‘tell all’. Is it the actor/journalist/dramatist in him?

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