BRITISH author Terry Pratchett who has Alzheimer’s disease yesterday called for allowing seriously ill people to argue for assisted suicide before a panel – and volunteered to act as a test case.
Pratchett says tribunals should be set up which could allow people with serious illnesses to die with assistance without the fear that those who help them could face prosecution.
“If I knew that I could die at any time I wanted, then suddenly every day would be as precious as a million pounds,” Pratchett said in a lecture last night.
“If I knew that I could die, I would live. My life, my death, my choice,” says Pratchett, best known for his comic-fantasy Discworld series of novels. He announced he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2007.
Assisted suicide is against the law in Britain and can be punished with a jail term of up to 14 years.
But the subject is highly controversial, particularly following recent high-profile court cases of two mothers who helped their sick children to die, one of whom was jailed and the other cleared.
A Daily Telegraph/ YouGov poll out yesterday found four out of five people believe that people should be allowed to help terminally ill relatives to take their own lives. YouGov surveyed 2,053 people.
Last year, the Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales, Keir Starmer, published interim guidelines on when assisted suicide cases should be prosecuted.
These said that while there were some factors which could weigh against the chances of someone being prosecuted, such as the victim asking for help, assisted suicide was still a criminal offence.
But campaigners want more clarity, although those opposed to assisted suicide say changing the law could put seriously ill people in a vulnerable position.
“To argue that if you are terminally ill you deserve less protection from the law than do the rest of us is highly discriminatory as well as dangerous,” Peter Saunders, director of campaign group Care Not Killing, told the BBC.
“Many cases of abuse involving elderly, sick and disabled people occur in the context of so-called loving families and the blanket prohibition of intentional killing or assisting suicide is there to ensure that vulnerable people are not put at risk.”
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