Tags: UK | suicide | guidelines | assisted

UK Issues Assisted Suicide Guidelines

Thursday, 25 Feb 2010 10:14 AM


LONDON – Prosecutors in England and Wales received fresh guidelines on assisted suicide Thursday that reduce the likelihood of people facing criminal charges for helping ailing loved ones to die.

However, mercy killers are still open to the full force of the law, said Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales.

He announced the new guidelines following calls for clarification in the law after dozens of cases where people helped their partners to die abroad.

"The policy is now more focused on the motivation of the suspect rather than the characteristics of the victim," such as whether the suspect was wholly motivated by compassion, Starmer said.

"The policy does not change the law on assisted suicide. It does not open the door for euthanasia.

"What it does is to provide a clear framework for prosecutors to decide which cases should proceed to court and which should not."

Assisted suicide has been at the centre of fierce debate here after a string of recent high-profile cases.

It is still illegal in England and Wales and carries a maximum sentence of 14 years' imprisonment.

However, more than 100 people with incurable or terminal illnesses have gone to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to die and none of those involved in helping them to do so have been prosecuted.

But last week, a veteran BBC broadcaster was arrested on suspicion of murder after admitting on television that he had smothered to death an AIDS-suffering ex-lover who was dying.

There were also two recent cases of mothers who killed their seriously ill children, one of whom was jailed.

Starmer was forced to issue the guidelines after a legal ruling in the case of multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy, who wanted to know whether her husband Omar would be prosecuted for helping her end her life.

He drew up the revised policy after considering the concerns of 5,000 individuals and groups.

"Omar and I can now get on with our lives," Purdy said, reacting to the new guidelines.

"Because I will know the likely consequences of any decisions I choose to make about my death, I won't have to make those decisions early."

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, called the guidelines "a victory for common sense and compassion".

Elsewhere in Britain, Scotland does not have a specific law on assisted suicide, while Northern Ireland has been conducting its own consultation.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

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2010-14-25
Thursday, 25 Feb 2010 10:14 AM
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