The Prime Minister has been forced to defend his opposition to legalising assisted suicide after he was challenged by an assisted suicide campaigner.
During a pre-election question and answer session in Leeds, Debbie Purdy who suffers from the neurological condition MS, urged Gordon Brown to change the law on assisted suicide.
But Mr Brown defended his stance, saying: “I have written about this and I have thought about it deeply, and I know that you will probably disagree with me, but I personally think that our duty is to alleviate pain and suffering as much as possible.
“I know this from my own experience, my own family’s experience [we] should be able to give the palliative care and relieve the suffering.”
The Prime Minister also pointed out that Dame Cicely Saunders, the founder of the nation’s modern hospice movement, was opposed to an assisted suicide law.
Mr Brown cautioned: “She said, No, the health service and the services we have got should be able to give people the palliative care and relieve that suffering, and we should not force relatives into a position where the person who is sick and in pain feels they have some obligation to apply for assisted suicide themselves, even though they don’t want that to happen.”
The encounter follows a legal victory by Mrs Purdy last year which forced the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to produce guidance on when cases of assisting a suicide are likely to be prosecuted.
The guidance, which was published in February, makes it clear that prosecutions are unlikely if the act was “motivated by compassion”.
However, pro-lifers greeted the news with alarm.
Dr Peter Saunders, of the Care Not Killing alliance, criticised the new rules, saying: “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.”
Earlier this year Mr Brown issued a stark warning that any change to the law on assisted suicide would put pressure on “the frail and the vulnerable” to end their lives.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph Mr Brown, who has consistently opposed assisted suicide, cautioned that creating a legal “right” to die would place unacceptable pressure on those with terminal illnesses or disabilities.
Mr Brown said: “Let us be clear: death as an option and an entitlement, via whatever bureaucratic processes a change in the law on assisted suicide might devise, would fundamentally change the way we think about death”.
Last week David Cameron said that he personally believes there should not be any change in the law on assisted suicide.
During an interview with the Catholic Herald the Tory Leader said: “my personal view is that if assisted dying is legalised, there is a danger that terminally ill people may feel pressurised into ending their lives if they feel they’ve become a burden on loved ones. I don’t believe anyone should be put in this position”.
And in December senior Liberal Democrat Vince Cable also declared his opposition to any legalisation of assisted suicide.
Writing in the Daily Mail Mr Cable declared that he was “personally opposed” to such a move.