Friday, July 31, 2009

Assisted suicide, Right to Die in England: new development

The long discussion in England about the circumstances in which assisted suicide will be prosecuted has moved a step forward with a ruling from the House of Lords:

'Right to die' campaigner Debbie Purdy wins House of Lords ruling

"Families who help terminally ill relatives to end their lives will be free from the risk of prosecution after a landmark ruling yesterday.
The Director of Public Prosecutions is to rush out urgent guidance to clarify the law after Debbie Purdy, a multiple sclerosis sufferer, won an historic judgment from the House of Lords.
The guidance will not remove the offence of assisted suicide under the Suicide Act 1961 but make the situation clearer for people who help relatives to die in circumstances of “compassionate” assisted suicide.
In their unanimous ruling, five law lords said that the DPP must issue a “custom-built” policy stating the circumstances that would lead him to prosecute in such cases, and those where he would not. It is the first time that the DPP has been asked by the courts to detail the circumstances under which he would prosecute. "
"To date, 115 people have travelled from Britain to a Swiss clinic to be helped to die. Eight cases have been referred to the DPP but no relatives have been prosecuted. However, the uncertainty has led some people to make their last journey alone, without family members, so as not to risk their being prosecuted, Lord Hope of Craighead, giving judgment yesterday, said. Others, he added, had given up the idea of assisted suicide and “been left to die what has been described as a distressing and undignified death”.
Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said that the ruling would clear up “the current legal muddle”. She said: “A law which is not understood, enforced or supported by the majority of the public is not fit for purpose. The ruling distinguishes between maliciously encouraging someone to commit suicide and compassionately supporting someone’s decision to die, in order that these acts are treated differently. More and more people want choice about how they end their life. Yet, until now, the law has refused to say whether people would face prosecution for accompanying someone abroad to exercise this choice.”
This month, an amendment tabled by Lord Falconer of Thoroton to remove the threat of prosecution from those who go abroad to help the terminally ill to die was defeated by peers in the Lords sitting not as a court but as the second chamber of Parliament. "

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