Assisted suicide should be legalised even though there may be a risk of abuse, a Government health adviser has said.
Martin Green, who has advised ministers on a number of dementia policies, conceded that it would be impossible to completely rule out the danger of abuse if the law was changed.
He said: “It might be a small minority but you will never ever be able to eliminate risk and you should never pretend you can.”
Critics have warned that any change to the current law would put vulnerable people at risk.
But Mr Green, the chief executive of the English Community Care Association, claims that patients who are not able to kill themselves are being denied “choice” and “autonomy”.
Mr Green, speaking during an interview with The Daily Telegraph, said that any change to the law would need to be accompanied by “absolutely clear safeguards”.
Dr Peter Saunders, of the Care Not Killing Alliance, warned that Parliament had repeatedly rejected attempts to change the law.
“In a free, democratic society, we know that there are limits to personal choice,” he said.
“Even with so-called safeguards, to allow people to choose to have help to kill themselves would be open to exploitation and abuse.”
Mr Green has suggested that the matter could be settled by a referendum or a free vote in Parliament.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “The Government believes that any change to the law in this emotive and contentious area is an issue of individual conscience and a matter for Parliament to decide rather than Government policy.”
Last year Keir Starmer QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, issued guidance indicating that prosecutions for assisted suicide would be unlikely if the killer was “wholly motivated by compassion”, but that prosecutions would be made in other circumstances.
In June 2010 it was revealed that Dr Michael Irwin would not face trial for helping a cancer-stricken man kill himself, despite there being enough evidence to “provide a realistic” prospect of conviction.
Earlier in the year Dr Irwin had written to Mr Starmer, and admitted helping terminally ill Raymond Cutkelvin commit suicide at the Dignitas facility in Switzerland.