Death + the Law Death Ethics Suicide

New Assisted Dying Guidelines in England

Director of Public Prosecutions Publishes Interim Policy on Prosecuting Assisted Suicide
The Crown Prosecution Service (September 23, 2009)

Last week in England, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, released new guidelines on assisted dying. The goal of these new guidelines is to give family members a clearer understanding of what is acceptable before the law when assisting a loved one to die. As the law currently stands in England and Wales, assisting another person’s suicide is against the law. I discussed what caused these new guidelines here.

Here, then, are the guidelines (which are not laws) which will be used to evaluate whether or not compassion was the guiding principal behind the assistance:

The public interest factors against a prosecution include that:

  • The victim had a clear, settled and informed wish to commit suicide;
  • The victim indicated unequivocally to the suspect that he or she wished to commit suicide;
  • The victim asked personally on his or her own initiative for the assistance of the suspect;
  • The victim had a terminal illness or a severe and incurable physical disability or a severe degenerative physical condition from which there was no possibility of recovery;
  • The suspect was wholly motivated by compassion;
  • The suspect was the spouse, partner or a close relative or a close personal friend of the victim, within the context of a long-term and supportive relationship;
  • The actions of the suspect, although sufficient to come within the definition of the offence, were of only minor assistance or influence, or the assistance which the suspect provided was as a consequence of their usual lawful employment.

It was interesting to read the different press reactions to the guidelines.

Washington Post: Britain To Clarify Policy on Euthanasia
Associated Press: Charges Unlikely for Helping Suicide in England
The Guardian: New assisted suicide guidelines to give ‘clear advice’ to relatives
Lesley Close (in The Guardian): Thank you, Keir Starmer
New York Times: Guidelines in England for Assisted Suicide
BBC News: Assisted suicide law ‘clarified’
Death with Dignity in Oregon
All of these articles point to one central point: these new guidelines are only a step towards changing the entire assisted dying/suicide law in England and Wales. This was only the first step.

The most interesting response to the decision from Timothy Egan at the New York Times. I highly recommend reading his piece The Way We Die Now.

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