Assisted Suicide Rules ‘Don’t Offer Clarification’ Leading Lawyer Says

New Rules On Assisted Suicide

25.02.2010

Revised guidelines on assisted suicide have said prosecution would be unlikely if compassion is established as the "driving force" behind a person's actions.

Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC denied the new guidelines had legalised assisted suicide or "opened the door to euthanasia", claiming that each case would continue to be judged on its own merits.

However, the new rules have relaxed certain aspects of the debate, such as a previous understanding that husband and wives would be less likely to face prosecution due to the nature of their relationship with the victim, after concerns were raised that marital relationships could be "antagonistic or manipulative".

The health of the victim at the time of their death will also take on extra significance under the new rules.

Assisted suicide remains a criminal offence in England and Wales, punishable by up to 14 years in prison, but individual decisions on prosecution are made depending on the circumstances in each case.

Mr Starmer said while a compassionate defence would reduce the likelihood of prosecution, encouraging or coercing a person to take their own life would invite prosecution.

Mr Starmer was forced to issue the guidelines after a Law Lords ruling in favour of Debbie Purdy, who has multiple sclerosis.

She wanted to know whether her husband would be prosecuted for helping her to end her life.

But Yogi Amin from law firm Irwin Mitchell said: “These new guidelines issued by the DPP will cause concern amongst many families who sought clarity on the law relating to compassionately assisting the suicide or attempted suicide of another person. Family members will not be given the benefit of acknowledging that as they are family, it could be assumed that they were motivated by compassion.

The checklist of factors for and against prosecution are relatively clear. For example, if you get paid for assisting with the suicide then you are more likely to be prosecuted. But it is the interpretation of all the factors in individual cases that will finally determine whether someone will be prosecuted. That decision will lie with police and prosecution lawyers. Those seeking to rely on the guidance will still find it very difficult to gather evidence to provide total assurance that they will not be prosecuted."