‘No immunity’ for assisted suicide

Published: Friday 17th October 2014 by The News Editor

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A clarification in the law on assisted suicide in the UK does not offer “immunity against prosecution” the Director of Public Prosecutions has said.

Following the case of a paralysed former builder and the widow of a man who had locked-in syndrome, who lost a right-to-die fight in June, Alison Saunders said she was happy to provide clarity on what is “an emotive subject”.

Supreme Court justices ruled against Paul Lamb and Jane Nicklinson, wife of Tony who died two years ago, by a seven-two majority following a hearing in London.

Now Ms Saunders has moved to make clear that in cases of assisted suicide the likelihood of health care professionals being prosecuted depends on their “specific and professional duty of care to the person in question”.

In future cases, Ms Saunders said the words “and the victim was in his or her care” will be highlighted to prosecutors.

“Assisting or encouraging suicide remains illegal and nothing in these guidelines offers immunity against prosecution,” she added.

“It is my role to ensure that the guidance I publish contributes to a consistent and principled approach which can be understood by the public and the police as well as by prosecutors.”

Dr Peter Saunders, campaign director for the Care Not Killing Alliance, accused Ms Saunders of having “rewritten her prosecution policy so that doctors can now be involved in assisting suicide without fear of prosecution, provided they don’t have a professional relationship with those they ‘help'”.

Writing on his blog Mr Saunders said the clarification is “very concerning indeed”.

“The Director of Public Prosecutions is effectively at a stroke of her pen decriminalising assisted suicide by doctors and other health care professionals as long as they don’t have an existing professional care relationship with the patient,” he said.

Earlier this month care minister Norman Lamb said he believes Lord Falconer’s Bill on Assisted Dying, which has been debated in the House of Lords, will run out of time to become law before the general election.

But he added that the question of legislation being passed allowing people to get help to end their lives without breaking the law is “a question of when rather than if”.

Senior figures including Lord Carey of Clifton, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have previously come out in favour of a change in the law on the right to die.

Lord Carey said the case of Mr Nicklinson, who died aged 58 in August 2012, and “the reality of needless suffering” had caused him to change his mind on the sensitive issue.

Archbishop Tutu said he revered “the sanctity of life – but not at any cost”.

Published: Friday 17th October 2014 by The News Editor

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