Commentators speak out on assisted suicide

Last week’s decision by the Law Lords in the Debbie Purdy case has prompted many media commentators to speak out on assisted suicide.

The Purdy judgement simply requires the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to clearly specify the circumstances under which he would bring charges for assisting suicide.

But pro-euthanasia campaigners such as Sir Terry Pratchett are demanding a change in the law.

The House of Lords last month rejected any liberalisation of the law by a convincing majority. Most media commentators take the same view.

Dominic Lawson of The Sunday Times attacked the “euthanasia lobby”, calling them “masters of media manipulation”.

He said his opposition to assisted suicide was “nothing to do with a fundamentalist view about the inviolable sanctity of life; it is everything to do with the fact that laws are designed (or should be) to protect the community as a whole, rather than the interests of a small number of strong individuals with loud voices”.

Many commentators warned that permitting assisted suicide under any circumstances would inevitably lead eventually to involuntary euthanasia of the old and sick.

Several cited the 1967 Abortion Act as an example of a law heralded at first as a ‘compassionate’ measure intended to apply only in extreme circumstances, but which has resulted in the deaths of millions of unborn children for the sake of others’ convenience.

Gerald Warner of Scotland on Sunday said: “The tragedy of the ‘right to die’ crusade is that it enlists the sympathy of the well-intentioned.

“The most heart-rending examples of terminal illness are advanced to lower the resistance of the public to an ultimately sinister proposal; but hard cases make bad laws.

“We have been here before: remember the debate preceding the Abortion Act.”

The Times columnist Matthew Parris warned: “It is one thing for the State to decline, at its discretion, to prosecute someone who has killed without authority.

“It is quite another thing for the State to issue an authority to kill. We do best, I think, to stay on that first, more limited, ground.”

In The Herald, Ian Galloway asked: “Can guarantees really be given that legislation with the express purpose of bringing about the deliberate killing of a human being will never be misused?”

Some commentators speculated that requiring the DPP to publish guidelines on prosecuting assisted suicide could actually increase the number of convictions by reducing his exercise of personal discretion.

Criminal Barrister and Bar Council member John Cooper said: “As with any exercise of precise definition, the result will be to confine rather than expand, with the concern that rather than achieving fewer investigations prior to potential prosecution than have already occurred, there could be more — contrary to what either side of the argument want.”

Former Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay pointed out that whenever the DPP does publish guidelines, they will be open to challenge in the courts if they appear to modify the intention of the 1961 Suicide Act.

Lord Mackay said: “Obviously anything of that kind can be judicially reviewed, although the judges would be slow to grant such a review.”

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