Saturday, February 20, 2010

Assisted suicide: law to be decriminalised 'by back door' from next week?

Martin Beckworth and Heidi Blake were published yesterday in the Telegraph paper in the UK suggesting that the assisted suicide prosecution guidelines that will be published next week by Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, will effectively decriminalised assisted suicide by the back door.

Previous blog comments about the assisted suicide prosecution guidelines:

Alison Davis challenges assisted suicide prosecution guidelines:

The article predicts that the Final rules set out by the Crown Prosecution Service will make it clear that those who are directly and intentionally involved with causing the death of a family member, etc are unlikely to face court if they "acted out of compassion." yet the "factors against prosecution are likely to be altered from existing draft guidance, after it was claimed that they would leave the most vulnerable members of society at greater risk while providing immunity to spouses regardless of their motives."

Link to the previous blog comment: Prosecution guidelines may open the door to assisted suicide:

The concept that someone is acting "out of compassion" is vague and misleading. We need to remember that everyone needs to be concerned about the suffering of persons, but to suggest that it is compassionate to allow a person to be involved with killing a person is false, misleading and dangerous.

According to the article, the same concern was stated by The All Party Parliamentary Group on Dying Well which said the guidelines “could have the unintended effect of leading potential law-breakers to believe they will secure immunity from prosecution if they assist suicides in certain prescribed ways or circumstances”.

If the article is correct I would share the concerns brought forward by Legal experts that said:
"this unprecedented step “in effect decriminalises” an offence on the statute book and in so doing “infringes the supremacy of Parliament”."

When prosecution guidelines don't interpret the law, but change the law, then we need to become concerned about the nature of our democratic institutions and the effects this has on other moral concerns.

The article does indicate that Starmer listened to the disability community. The article stated:
Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, who was born with spinal muscular atrophy, told the DPP that this factor would be considered discrimination on the grounds of disability.

On behalf of a campaign group called Not Dead Yet, she wrote: “This ‘understanding’ of a disabled or terminally ill person’s wish to die is deeply demeaning to other disabled people and sends out entirely the wrong message to those newly disabled or diagnosed with a terminal illness.”

The article also predicts that the guidelines will not simply exonerate spouses. It stated:
"respondents said it was “naïve” to assume their motives in helping their husband or wife die were honest, and were not influenced by money or the desire to free themselves from caring responsibilities."

It is interesting to note that:
"The Royal College of Physicians has demanded that doctors are specifically included in the list of professionals whose involvement in an assisted suicide would increase the likelihood of prosecution, amid fears that the draft rules could open the door to allowing euthanasia."

If Starmer publishes assisted suicide prosecution guidelines that defacto legalise assisted suicide, then those guidelines will need to be legally challenged or parliament will need to intervene, even if the primary reason for challenging the guidelines is to protect our democratic institutions.

Link to the article in the Telegraph paper in the UK:

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