Has Assisted Suicide Been Legalised by Stealth? 44 Cases Escape Prosecution

Article excerpt

Byline: Steve Doughty Social Affairs Correspondent

NONE of the 44 people suspected of helping friends or relatives to die over the past 18 months has been prosecuted, it emerged yesterday.

In 31 cases the decision not to take court action was made by the Director of Public Prosecutions, under his own assisted suicide guidelines.

Keir Starmer's rules offer leniency to those who - out of compassion - help in the death of a family member.

Anti-euthanasia campaigners accuse the DPP of making up law and ignoring the wishes of Parliament.

Right-to-die campaigners, however, want a formal legislative change to remove the threat of 14-year jail sentences for those convicted over assisted suicide.

Many of the cases that have been brought to the attention of the Crown Prosecution Service since 2009 are thought to involve Britons who travelled to the Dignitas clinic in Zurich to end their lives.

Most have been helped by relatives or friends who arranged their affairs, bought tickets or helped them to travel to Switzerland.

Mr Starmer's assisted suicide guidelines went into effect in February last year. They were drawn up in response to an instruction from Law Lords in the case of Debbie Purdy, a multiple sclerosis sufferer who asked for legal guidance on how her husband would be treated were he to help her die.

The guidelines say broadly that anybody who helps a suicide out of compassion and not for personal gain is less likely to be prosecuted. It also counts against prosecution if an individual has a settled and declared wish to die.

Professionals who help a suicide, for example doctors or nurses, remain likely to be prosecuted.

Cases in which no prosecution has been brought have been piling up steadily since Mr Starmer's rules went into force.

Last December he said 20 cases had not led to prosecutions. His latest count puts the number of cases referred to the CPS by police forces at 44. …