The Crown Prosecution Service has failed to prosecute dozens of people suspected of assisting a suicide over the past 18 months, it has emerged.
Critics have accused Keir Starmer QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), of trying to change the law by stealth.
Last year Mr Starmer issued guidance indicating that a prosecution for assisted suicide would be unlikely if the subject was “wholly motivated by compassion”.
Since the guidance came into force at least 30 cases of assisted suicide have been referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
Of the last 44 cases brought before the CPS Mr Starmer has dropped 31 while another eight remain under review. The police withdrew their reports in five of the cases.
But Dr Peter Saunders, of the campaign group Care Not Killing, said: “There is a very real danger here of legalisation by stealth which runs contrary to the will of Parliament.”
He added: “The law is clear and has not been changed. Assisting or encouraging suicide is a serious crime carrying a discretionary sentence of up to 14 years.
“It acts as a powerful disincentive to exploitation and abuse. The DPP has a duty to uphold the will of Parliament but with no prosecutions resulting from the last 44 cases, he appears to be interpreting his own prosecution guidance very liberally indeed.”
But Mr Starmer said: “It is a fact that no prosecutions have been brought for assisting a suicide since the guidelines were issued.
“But any inference that the Crown Prosecution Service has implemented a blanket policy of simply not prosecuting for this offence would be wrong.”
He added: “So far, we have simply not encountered one where an individual was motivated by the prospect of gaining in some way from the death of the victim.”
Sarah Wooton, from the pro-euthanasia pressure group Dignity in Dying, said: “The DPP’s policy is a significant step forward for patient choice, but it has not and could not change the law.”
Earlier this year a survey by a leading disability charity revealed that many disabled people fear that legalising assisted suicide would create pressure for them to “end their lives prematurely”.