The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has issued interim guidance outlining the public interest factors he will consider before deciding to pursue assisted suicide cases.
Keir Starmer QC, who was appointed as DPP earlier this year, has made clear that assisted suicide remains illegal.
The new guidance is only an interim policy, and a public consultation on the matter will now run until 16 December.
Mr Starmer said: “As this policy states, assessing the public interest is not simply a matter of adding up the number of factors on each side and seeing which side of the scales has the greater number.
“Each case must be considered on its own facts and its own merits.”
He added: “I also want to make it perfectly clear that this policy does not, in any way, permit euthanasia.
“The taking of life by another person is murder or manslaughter – which are among the most serious criminal offences.”
Mr Starmer was ordered to issue a policy statement by the Law Lords who ruled in favour of a legal challenge by assisted suicide campaigner Debbie Purdy.
Miss Purdy, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, wants to know what would happen to her husband if he helped her travel overseas to commit suicide and said the current law is not clear.
Mr Starmer has said that his new guidance applies equally to suicides assisted in the UK and overseas.
• The victim was under 18 years of age;
• The victim’s capacity to reach an informed decision was adversely affected by a recognised mental illness or learning difficulty;
• The victim did not have a clear, settled and informed wish to commit suicide; for example, the victim’s history suggests that his or her wish to commit suicide was temporary or subject to change;
• The victim did not indicate unequivocally to the suspect that he or she wished to commit suicide;
• The victim did not ask personally on his or her own initiative for the assistance of the suspect;
• The victim did not have a terminal illness; or a severe and incurable physical disability; or a severe degenerative physical condition from which there was no possibility of recovery;
• The suspect was not wholly motivated by compassion; for example, the suspect was motivated by the prospect that they or a person closely connected to them stood to gain in some way from the death of the victim;
• The suspect persuaded, pressured or maliciously encouraged the victim to commit suicide, or exercised improper influence in the victim’s decision to do so; and did not take reasonable steps to ensure that any other person did not do so.
The public interest factors against a prosecution include that:
• The victim had a clear, settled and informed wish to commit suicide;
• The victim indicated unequivocally to the suspect that he or she wished to commit suicide;
• The victim asked personally on his or her own initiative for the assistance of the suspect;
• The victim had a terminal illness or a severe and incurable physical disability or a severe degenerative physical condition from which there was no possibility of recovery;
• The suspect was wholly motivated by compassion;
• The suspect was the spouse, partner or a close relative or a close personal friend of the victim, within the context of a long-term and supportive relationship;
• The actions of the suspect, although sufficient to come within the definition of the offence, were of only minor assistance or influence, or the assistance which the suspect provided was as a consequence of their usual lawful employment.