Charter for Euthanasia; New Legal Ruling in England Means Relatives Will Be Let off in Most Assisted Suicide Cases

Daily Mail (London), February 26, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Charter for Euthanasia; New Legal Ruling in England Means Relatives Will Be Let off in Most Assisted Suicide Cases


Byline: Steve Doughty Social Affairs Correspondent

HELPING a loved one to commit suicide out of compassion will no longer invite court action south of the Border.

Rules for England and Wales set down by the Director of Public Prosecutions yesterday remove the risk of a trial and up to 14 years in jail.

Even those who stand to gain financially from the will of someone they help to die can expect to avoid prosecution - as long as they can show they were motivated by love and not by greed.

The guidelines sent out to prosecutors by Keir Starmer effectively mean the law will turn a blind eye to assisted suicide. This is despite the fact that the Suicide Act of 1961 - which makes helping someone to kill themselves a serious crime - remains unchanged. In Scotland, where it is not against the law to commit suicide, veteran MSP Margo MacDonald has launched her own legislative bid to have assisted suicide legalised.

Her Bill, which would allow people as young as 16 to kill themselves at special suicide clinics, is unlikely to succeed as it does not have enough support from MSPs.

However, any change to the law south of the Border raises the prospect that Scots could travel to England to get assistance with ending their own lives.

Mr Starmer's statement saw him drop some of the most controversial provisions from the first draft of the guidelines he issued last September. Campaigners had protested against clauses saying prosecutors were not to pursue those who helped the disabled or dying to kill themselves. Mr Starmer removed the clauses, accepting that they discriminate against the disabled.

Proposals for more lenient treatment for close relatives have also gone, following protests that spouses and family members can act out of malice or greed.

Mr Starmer's guidelines were drawn up at the request of Law Lords, who ruled last summer in the case of dignity in dying campaigner Debbie Purdy.

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