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23rd September 2009

Care Not Killing Alliance gives initial reaction


Care Not Killing has received a copy of the draft guidelines, issued today by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), relating to prosecutions under Section 2(1) of the Suicide Act 1961. We will be examining the guidelines carefully in the coming weeks and responding formally to the DPP with our views.

We are pleased to see that the draft guidelines emphasise that assisting suicide will remain illegal and that any person who gives such assistance, whatever the circumstances, will remain liable to prosecution. We are also pleased to see a recognition of the potential for external coercion in cases of assisted suicide and of the need to ensure that those so assisted are not suffering from mental illness or incapacity and of the need to discourage internet promotion of assisted suicides.

On the other hand, there are some features of the draft guidelines that are disturbing. In particular, it is envisaged that prosecutions for assisted suicide will be less likely where the deceased was terminally ill or suffering from a severe an incurable physical disability or a severe degenerative physical condition from which there is no possibility of recovery. Not only does this classification cover a very wide swathe of medical conditions, including such illnesses as chronic heart disease and most kinds of physical disability, but it also implies that the lives of a whole group of people - those who are seriously ill or disabled - are less deserving of the law's protection than are others.

We are concerned also that prosecution of spouses, partners, or close friends or family members is envisaged as less likely than of others who might assist a suicide. There must be a real danger that this will be seen as giving the green light to assistance from close relatives or friends, who in many cases might be those who would stand personally to gain from the death of the deceased.

We shall be considering these and a number of other issues in the guidelines and responding formally within the next few weeks.

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