New British Prosecutor Won’t Charge Family in Foreign Assisted Suicide Cases

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 13, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

New British Prosecutor Won’t Charge Family in Foreign Assisted Suicide Cases

by Steven Ertelt Editor
January 13
, 2009

London, England ( — The new Director of Public Prosecutions says he will not be very aggressive in prosecuting the family of patients who take them to other countries for assisted suicides. In fact, Keir Starmer QC indicated he sunk in such hebetude that he probably won’t prosecute any cases.

That’s disappointing news to pro-life advocates concerned that "suicide tourism" is on the rise as more Britons evade the nation’s assisted suicide ban by taking their loved ones to other nations to be killed.

Starmer spoke in light of his decision at the end of last year not to prosecute the family of 23-year-old rugby player Daniel James, whose family took him to a Dignitas center in Switzerland to die.

Starmer admitted there was “sufficient evidence” to prosecute but claimed it would not be in the public interest to do so.

He now says future cases will be handled with the same disregard, in showing that future cases are "workable" within the current assisted suicide law.

“I hope the Daniel James case has showed that it is. It indicates as transparently as possible the steps that we will go through and the factors that are relevant," he said.

Dr. Peter Saunders of the Care Not Killing alliance said Starmer’s comments give people the green light to continue to avoid Britain’s assisted suicide law.

“Assisted suicide is a serious crime and I don’t think anybody should be lulled into believing it is all right. Prosecution is at the discretion of the DPP," he said.

Starmer’s stance is quite different from that of DPP Sir Ken MacDonald, who refused to indicate when he would or would not prosecute cases, though generally his disfavored doing so.

MacDonald said he would not make his decision-making public because it would effectively be changing the law.

“We can’t do that. It would be unlawful, and would undermine the rule of law," he said. “If the law is going to be changed, it has to be changed by Parliament.”

MacDonald’s decision not to publicly highlight his position led to a lawsuit from Debbie Purdy, a woman who wanted to travel to Switzerland to kill herself at a euthanasia center and didn’t want her family charged when they return.

Purdy filed a lawsuit against MacDonald, but the British High Court eventually ruled against her.

More than 100 Britons have been killed at Swiss euthanasia clinics yet no family members of the deceased have ever been charged.

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