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Assisted suicide interim policy guidelines


DPP assisted suicide interim policy guidelines published this Wednesday


On 23 September, the Director of Public Prosecutions has published the guidelines setting out key factors in his decision making in cases of assisted suicide.  The guidelines represent an interim policy.  The DPP is calling for public participation in a 12-week consultation on the identified factors before he produces the final guidelines.
The guidelines were drawn up on the orders of five Law Lords who ruled on 30 July that the DPP should clarify the law by ‘promulgating an offence-specific policy identifying the facts and circumstances which he will take into account’ in assisted suicide cases. The ruling of the Law Lords came after Debbie Purdy, who has multiple sclerosis, went to the courts seeking assurances that her husband will not be prosecuted if he helps her go to commit suicide.
The guidelines, which will apply in the UK as well as to Britons travelling overseas, indicate that family members or friends who help a person under 18 or one suffering from a mental illness or a learning disability are more likely to be prosecuted. On the other hand, those who assist people who are terminally ill, or suffering from a severe degenerative condition, would be less likely to face prosecution.
The likely motivations of a person who assisted another to commit suicide will also be considered to ascertain whether they acted out of compassion or because they stood to gain.
Assisters who were in ‘a long-term and supportive relationship’ with the deceased will be viewed more favourably.
The move has the dangerous effect of encouraging the idea that some lives do not need to be protected under the law.
In his guidelines the DPP sets out what he views as the public interest factors against a prosecution. As well as undermining the key biblical and moral precept of the sanctity of life, CCFON and CLC are concerned that these will be open to abuse, create a growing sense in the minds of elderly, ill and vulnerable people of pressure to end their lives (as has been demonstrated by research in other countries where similar liberalisation has taken place) and will prove to be a ‘thin end of the wedge’ leading to ever wider practice, as has been shown historically in the use of the law on abortion.
Factors influencing the DPP to withhold from prosecution include that:
  • The victim had a clear, settled and informed wish to commit suicide;
  • The victim indicated unequivocally to the suspect that he or she wished to commit suicide;
  • The victim asked personally on his or her own initiative for the assistance of the suspect;
  • The victim had a terminal illness or a severe and incurable physical disability or a severe degenerative physical condition from which there was no possibility of recovery;
  • The suspect was wholly motivated by compassion;
  • The suspect was the spouse, partner or a close relative or a close personal friend of the victim, within the context of a long-term and supportive relationship;
  • The actions of the suspect, although sufficient to come within the definition of the offence, were of only minor assistance or influence, or the assistance which the suspect provided was as a consequence of their usual lawful employment.
In an interview last Sunday, Keir Starmer, the DPP, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that assisted suicide will be illegal and would remain so even after the guidance was issued.
However, he said that families helping terminally ill loved-ones to commit suicide will not be prosecuted as long as they do not ‘encourage’ them and only help to assist those with a ‘clear and settled intention’ to die.
‘The general approach we’ve taken is to steer a careful course between protecting the vulnerable from those that might gain from hastening their death but also identifying those cases where nobody really thinks it's in the public interest to prosecute,’ Mr Starmer QC said.
‘We have to look at each case on its merits but the idea is to bring clarity. It's about people being able to understand the basis on which we take decisions,’ he added.
Care Not Killing Alliance have issued a brief ‘Questions & Answers’ paper aiming to explain the current situation with the guidelines to assisted suicide.
(Click here to read the paper)
Steve Doughty, writing for the Daily Mail newspaper, says that ‘a DPP who both tries to influence public opinion and then use it in making openly political judgments has come a long way from the role of his predecessors’.
‘So far, perhaps, that some politicians might consider whether it was wise to include in the guiding rules of the Crown Prosecution Service quite such a wide margin for the DPP to consider the public interest in bringing charges.
‘Keir Starmer’s use of the public interest test now appears to have put him alongside the judges themselves in the ranks of unelected officials who can make the law without reference to Parliament,’ he added.
It was revealed earlier this week that David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party, has condemned the decriminalisation of assisted suicide and warned that helping the terminally ill to die is 'dangerous for society'. The statement of Mr Cameron means the leaders of both major political parties have set out their deep reservations over changing the law.


by couresy of CCFON