Friday, October 23, 2009

The British Debate Over Assisted Suicide.

Currently, assisted suicide is illegal in Britain. The recent case of Debbie Purdy, a multiple sclerosis patient who petitioned the courts to allow her husband, Omar, to help her leave the country for assisted suicide and be exempt from prosecution when he returned, has caused the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, to revise prosecutorial laws for those who assist suicide.

CommunityCare offers an informative outline and civil discussion on the recent revision of British assisted suicide laws. It gives Care Not Killing Alliance, an anti-assisted suicide group, and Dignity in Dying, an end of life patient rights group, equal space to make their cases.

The new prosecution guidelines require that:

1 The victim is under 18.

2 The victim's mental capacity was adversely affected.

3 The victim did not have a clear, settled or informed wish to commit suicide.

4 The victim did not indicate unequivocally to the suspect that she wanted to commit suicide.

5 The victim did not ask personally on their own initiative for the suspect's assistance.

6 The victim did not have a terminal illness, a severe and incurable physical disability, or a severe degenerative physical condition.

7 The suspect was not wholly motivated by compassion.

The converse of 3-7 are among the most important factors against prosecution.

Peter Saunders of Care Not Killing Alliance writes:

Three of the individual criteria listed are particularly open to objection - that a more lenient view of assistance with suicide might be taken if it is given to people with terminal or degenerative illnesses or with incurable disabilities; or to people with a history of suicide attempts; or if it is provided by spouses or close family members. These criteria which are said not to favour prosecution single out groups of people for special category status. In a civilised society, people who are seriously ill or suicidal should be protected by the law, not fast-tracked for suicide. Parliament has twice declined to change the law to allow assisted suicide for terminally ill people, yet here we have a criterion from the DPP that would facilitate it for them and for a range of other unwell people.

The suggestion that spouses and family members might receive more lenient consideration as assisters is based on the facile notion propagated by euthanasia campaigners that such people are invariably "loved ones". The reality is different: most violence and abuse takes place within families. These guidelines need further work before they can be considered fit for purpose.

Jo Cartwright of Dignity in Dying writes:

Although these guidelines are helpful, they only partly resolve the problem.

The guidelines clarify the law for the loved ones of those asking for assistance, but they cannot and do not provide a safeguarded means of assisted dying in the UK. Therefore, we continue to export our terminally ill abroad to die or condone suicides behind closed doors. This status quo is unacceptable and, fundamentally, the law needs to change.

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