Pro-lifers have voiced their concern over new assisted suicide guidelines, published today, which say prosecutions are unlikely if the act was “motivated by compassion”.
Watch Keir Starmer explain his new guidelines
Dr Peter Saunders, of the Care Not Killing alliance, criticised the new rules: “Anyone who takes part in an assisted suicide is going to claim they were acting out of compassion. The only witness who really knows will be dead.”
The new guidelines were drawn up by Keir Starmer QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales, following a legal case supported by pro-euthanasia campaigners.
He reminded people that assisted suicide remains illegal. The guidelines list the factors to be considered when deciding whether a prosecution is “in the public interest”.
Mr Starmer said: “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.”
However, some politicians are angry at what they see as “back door” attempts to meddle with the law without MPs debating the issue.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Conservative MP Mark Pritchard said: “There is real concern out in the community that this House is not having a say. People are very concerned that this is a new back door to euthanasia in the UK.”
And disability groups have voiced strong concern too. Richard Hawkes, chief executive of Scope, said: “Many disabled people are frightened by the consequences of these new guidelines and with good reason.
“There is a real danger these changes will result in disabled people being pressured to end their lives.”
The final guidance sets out 16 factors to be considered in favour of a prosecution and six factors against.
Mr Starmer said: “The policy is now more focused on the motivation of the suspect rather than the characteristics of the victim.”
Assisted suicide campaigner Debbie Purdy has described the DPP’s new guidelines as a “victory”.
She said: “I am still overwhelmed and delighted by this victory.”
Her sentiments were echoed by Sarah Wootton, chief executive of pro-euthanasia group Dignity in Dying, who described the guidelines as a “victory for common sense”.
The 16 public interest factors in favour of prosecution are:
•The victim was under 18 years of age.
•The victim did not have the capacity (as defined by the Mental Capacity Act 2005) to reach an informed decision to commit suicide.
•The victim had not reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision to commit suicide.
•The victim had not clearly and unequivocally communicated his or her decision to commit suicide to the suspect.
•The victim did not seek the encouragement or assistance of the suspect personally or on his or her own initiative.
•The suspect was not wholly motivated by compassion; for example, the suspect was motivated by the prospect that he or she or a person closely connected to him or her stood to gain in some way from the death of the victim.
•The suspect pressured the victim to commit suicide.
•The suspect did not take reasonable steps to ensure that any other person had not pressured the victim to commit suicide.
•The suspect had a history of violence or abuse against the victim.
•The victim was physically able to undertake the act that constituted the assistance himself or herself.
•The suspect was unknown to the victim and encouraged or assisted the victim to commit or attempt to commit suicide by providing specific information via, for example, a website or publication.
•The suspect gave encouragement or assistance to more than one victim who were not known to each other.
•The suspect was paid by the victim or those close to the victim for his or her encouragement or assistance.
•The suspect was acting in his or her capacity as a medical doctor, nurse, other healthcare professional, a professional carer (whether for payment or not), or as a person in authority, such as a prison officer, and the victim was in his or her care.
•The suspect was aware that the victim intended to commit suicide in a public place where it was reasonable to think that members of the public may be present.
•The suspect was acting in his or her capacity as a person involved in the management or as an employee (whether for payment or not) of an organisation or group, a purpose of which is to provide a physical environment (whether for payment or not) in which to allow another to commit suicide.
The six public interest factors against prosecution are:
•The victim had reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision to commit suicide.
•The suspect was wholly motivated by compassion.
•The actions of the suspect, although sufficient to come within the definition of the crime, were of only minor encouragement or assistance.
•The suspect had sought to dissuade the victim from taking the course of action which resulted in his or her suicide.
•The actions of the suspect may be characterised as reluctant encouragement or assistance in the face of a determined wish on the part of the victim to commit suicide.
•The suspect reported the victim’s suicide to the police and fully assisted them in their enquiries into the circumstances of the suicide or the attempt and his or her part in providing encouragement or assistance.