Archive material on Assisted Suicide Guidelines September 2009

In response to the Law Lords’ ruling in the Debbie Purdy case. The Director of Public Prosecutions has now clarified the law on assisted dying. Since 1961 it has not been against the law to commit suicide, but it has been against the law to assist a person to commit suicide. This has affected not only the actions of doctors and carers but also those who accompanied friends or relatives to the Dignitas Clinic in Zurich. To date over 100 people have travelled to the Dignitas clinic from the UK in order to end their lives. Invariably those who accompanied them on the journey have been questioned by Police on their return to this country. Despite this no one has yet been prosecuted for assisting in the death of a friend or relative. In July of this year Debbie Purdy asked for a clarification of the existing law. She fears that one day she will have to travel to Switzerland to end her life and does not want her husband, jazz musician, Omar, to be questioned or arrested by the British Police for assisting her.

Keir Starmer, the director of Public Prosecutions has now published guideline for England and Wales. Key considerations spelled out in the guidelines include deciding whether someone is acting “on compassionate grounds”, whether the friend or relative assisting stands to financially benefit from the death and whether the person was in a fit enough state to make the decision to die. Writing in a letter to The Telegraph ahead of the publication of the guidelines today, Mr Starmer said: “It is not easy and there are lots of factors that have to be taken into account.

“The basic approach we have taken is to try to bring some clarity, but at the same time to protect the vulnerable.”

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