NEW guidelines in England and Wales on whether a person is to be prosecuted for assisted suicide will place closer scrutiny on the motivation of the suspect, their chief prosecutor said.
It states that as long as compassion is the “driving force” behind a suspect’s actions – even if the suspect benefits from the death – the person is unlikely to be prosecuted. The person, who wants to die, “must have a clear, settled and informed wish to die”.
The 1961 Suicide Act makes it an offence to encourage or assist a suicide or a suicide attempt in England and Wales. Anyone doing so could face up to 14 years in prison.
Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer said each case would be judged on its merits and denied he had legalised assisted suicide or “opened the door to euthanasia”.
The final version of the policy will also place less emphasis on the health of the victim – such as whether they are terminally ill.
Mr Starmer said: “The policy is now more focused on the motivation of the suspect rather than the characteristics of the victim.
“The policy does not change the law on assisted suicide. It does not open the door for euthanasia. It does not override the will of parliament. What it does do is to provide a clear framework for prosecutors to decide which cases should proceed to court and which should not,” he said.
A reference in last year’s interim guidelines which stated that husbands and wives or close friends were less likely to be prosecuted because of their close relationship to the victim has been removed.
Responses to the initial guidance, published last year, argued that such relationships could be “antagonistic or manipulative”.
The eight pages of guidelines were released this morning along with a 45-page summary of responses.
Assisted suicide remains a criminal offence in England and Wales. The interim policy was published in September and has been in force since.
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.
Campaigners for the right to die welcomed the initial guidelines and called for the Government to legislate on the issue, but ministers were reluctant to intervene.
Author Terry Pratchett welcomed today’s guidance as “the best we can get without a change in the law”. The 61-year-old, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, believes people should have the right to choose when they die.
“Right-to-die” campaigner Debbie Purdy welcomed the guidelines saying they have “given me my life back”.
But she vowed to continue campaigning for a change to the law.
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