UK to clarify assisted suicide laws

 

Britain's Director of Public Prosecutions said today he will spell out this week under what circumstances a person will be prosecuted for helping someone to take their own life.

In July, Britain's highest court ruled that the government must clarify the law on assisted suicide after ruling in favour of a woman who wanted reassurances her husband would not be prosecuted if she went abroad to end her life.

The existing law says helping someone to kill themself is a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison. However, since 1992, about 100 British citizens have ended their lives at the Dignitas facility in Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal, without their relatives being prosecuted.

DPP Keir Starmer said new guidelines, which would only apply in England and Wales, would be issued on Wednesday to make clear when action would, or would not be taken. He indicated that prosecutions were only likely if police could prove that those who helped the suicide would gain from the death.

"We're not changing the law," he told BBC TV. "What we're doing this week...is to clarify when individuals are more likely to be prosecuted or more unlikely not to be prosecuted."

He said the policy would try to "steer a careful course" of protecting the vulnerable from people who might gain from hastening their death, while identifying cases where it was not in the public interest to prosecute.

The guidance would "list the factors that are likely to lead to a prosecution and those that aren't", he said.

The clarification was ordered after MS sufferer Debbie Purdy went to court to force Mr Starmer to give assurances her husband would not be prosecuted if he helped her go to a euthanasia facility overseas.

Wheelchair-bound Ms Purdy had been worried that her professional musician husband Omar Puente would be treated harshly by the authorities because he is Cuban.

"People like me can make a proper informed choice, and there will be protection for people to make sure they are not coerced or manipulated," she told BBC TV. "In publishing his guidelines, he will let us know so I will know in advance what choices I can make and what consideration I have to have to make sure that anybody who helps me is not prosecuted."