Martin Amis and Dr. Crippen: A Tenuous Link

Dr (Hawley Harvey) Crippen was an American physician in the UK, living in Camden among other places. He is better known for being the first criminal person to be captured and handed over to the authorities by aid of wireless communication. Crippen had killed his wife – Cora Henrietta Crippen, popular in certian theatrical circles as Belle Elmore, a music hall entertainer – and fled to the atlantic with an accomplice dressed as a boy. Henry George Kendall, once a British sea captain, recognised Crippen as the ‘london cellar murderer’ and contacted the authorities by wireless telegram. The message read:

“Have strong suspicions that Crippen London cellar murderer and accomplice are among saloon passengers. Mustache taken off growing beard. Accomplice dressed as boy. Manner and build undoubtedly a girl.”

It is said, therefore, that if Crippen and his accomplice were not in among the saloon passengers, and instead in third class, he would have got away with it, and made it across the atlantic never to be heard of again. But this was not to be.

It also seems that Dr Crippen lives on, in the form of a blogger named, well, Dr. Crippen. On Tuesday, this Dr. Crippen tore up the doctrine that one should have the right to die both on the Guardian, and a reminder on his blog, at a time when the debate has reared its head again, with Terry Pratchett chipping in, and Martin Amis.

Martin Amis was not jokingyes, Toby Young, he was not joking, and even if he was, there are plenty of newspaper editors that have jumped on this bandwagon regardless – when he said old people should be allowed to die on the corner of the street in booth with a martini and a medal.

Dr. Crippen, against this kind of thinking, and putting a more professional-centric approach to the issue, has noted that:

Someone else will have to assist in the killing. If doctors will not do it, there will have to be a protocol to empower those who provide the service. It will give a whole new, macabre meaning to the phrase “health care professional”

and, on the question of the law, points out that:

A caring mother who kills her severely brain-damaged son is found guilty of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. A caring mother who kills her daughter who is suffering from “myalgic encephalomyelitis”, a condition that many doctors only recognise as an inappropriately named psychiatric illness, is found not guilty of murder. It is incomprehensible that she was found not guilty. Where is the logic? The law is clear, but juries are not prepared to enforce it. The law must therefore be changed.

Changed to what? I have argued before for an applied version of Plato’s noble lie, saying

The ideal end to a trial where a person has committed the act of suicide assistance would be where they have their sentence suspended on compassionate grounds, but after due legal examination to check as best as possible that nothing dubious has crept through the cracks, which is where I depart from the current perception of this crime, that often compassion is not bestowed upon the offender.

So assisted suicide will still go through the legal mechanisms – but compassion will typically be extended by the law, but the law does not explicitly stipulate this, so a rigid process of scrutiny can still apply. It also stops people from killing their spouses on a whim and perhaps using assisted suicide as an excuse. Would this have been a strategy Dr. Crippen might have used?

The last time Martin Amis was caught in this much controversy he had published in The Times – no longer published – an article called 9/11 and the Cult of Death. And when was Dr. Crippen born? 11 September 1862. The death cult plot thickens.


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