The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has been accused of endangering vulnerable people with proposals to make prosecutions for so-called mercy killings less likely.
The CPS currently states that, where there is sufficient evidence that someone has killed a sick or infirm friend or relative, “prosecution is almost certainly required”, with life imprisonment the maximum penalty.
But new proposals state that a prosecution should be less likely if it is believed a suspect was “wholly motivated by compassion”.
The proposals are being put forward for consultation, when the public will be asked for their views on whether the requirement to “almost certainly” prosecute any killing “even in cases such as ‘mercy killing’ of a sick relative” should be replaced by a number of factors for prosecutors to consider instead.
The factors include whether the victim “had reached a voluntary, settled and informed decision to end their life” and whether the suspect “was wholly motivated by compassion”. Others include whether the suspect fully assisted the police or was part of a ‘suicide pact’ with the victim.
In the document, the CPS outlines eleven factors that would make prosecutors more likely to pursue a case, including if the victim was under 18 or lacking the mental capacity to make “an informed decision”, or if the suspect is a doctor or nurse.
The Head of the CPS, Max Hill QC, claimed that “there are circumstances where actually, even where you have the evidence, you may be able to move away from prosecution”.
But The Christian Institute’s Ciarán Kelly expressed serious concerns, saying: “Current guidance already allows for a certain amount of discretion, but these proposals are far too subjective.
“There is a real risk that ‘compassion’ becomes a ‘get out of jail free card’ that undermines protections for vulnerable people.”
Gordon Macdonald, CEO of Care Not Killing, said: “At a time when elder abuse and other crimes against vulnerable people are on the rise, most people will not understand why the CPS want to launch a review specifically designed to weaken the laws that protect them.”
‘Compassion’ is also often used as an argument in support of legalising assisted suicide.
Baroness Meacher’s assisted suicide Bill is being considered by the House of Lords. And in Scotland, Liam McArthur MSP is also pressing ahead with his plan to legalise assisted suicide.
But in a recent statement The Christian Institute said: “True compassion for those who are terminally ill means valuing their lives, giving them hope, and ensuring that high quality palliative care is available to everyone who needs it.”