PM back-pedals over euthanasia

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he is “totally against” assisted suicide and euthanasia despite plans by his Government to “simplify and modernise” current laws.

When asked in a BBC Radio Four interview whether he would support laws to permit euthanasia or assisted suicide, Mr Brown responded: “I am totally against laws on that.”

He said: “It is not really for us to create any legislation that would put pressure on people to feel they had to offer themselves because they were causing trouble to a relative or anyone else.”

He added: “I think we have got to make it absolutely clear that the importance of human life is recognised.”

However, these comments from the Prime Minister come just weeks after the Queen’s Speech made reference to a new Coroners and Justice Bill, which the Government says will include “simplifying and modernising the offence of assisting suicide”.

Last month a Sky broadcast of the assisted suicide of Craig Ewert in a Swiss suicide clinic drew a comment from the Prime Minister in Parliament.

Mr Brown said: “I believe that it is necessary to ensure that there is never a case in this country where a sick or elderly person feels under pressure to agree to an assisted death or somehow feels it is the expected thing to do.

Speaking at the time he said: “That is why I have always opposed legislation for assisted deaths.”

He added that Sky’s decision to screen the event was a matter for the broadcasting watchdog, but said: “I think it’s very important that these issues are dealt with sensitively and without sensationalism”.

The televised broadcast sparked outrage from pro-life groups claiming it was a “cynical attempt to boost television ratings”.

Under the current law it is illegal to “aid, abet, counsel or procure” someone else’s suicide.

However, in December, the parents of 23-year-old Daniel James were not prosecuted when they helped him to die in a Swiss suicide clinic.

Advocates of a change in the law claim it will not pressurise the elderly or the infirm to prematurely end their lives.

But the British Medical Association (BMA) is against legalising assisted suicide. Dr George Fernie of the BMA said: “People when they have a debilitating illness that may end their life are extremely vulnerable, they’re at a fragile stage.

“And our worry is they’re going to contemplate ending their life when that really isn’t their wish.”