British Prosecutor Legalizes UK Assisted UK Suicides by Friends, Relatives

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 21, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British Prosecutor Legalizes UK Assisted Suicides by Friends, Relatives

by Steven Ertelt Editor
September 21
, 2009

London, England ( — The British Parliament has refused to approve a bill that would directly legalized assisted suicide in the UK, but a prosecutor has opened up the country to suicide on his own.

The prosecutor’s decision follows a decision by the House of Lords allowing Debbie Purdy the right to know if her husband would be prosecuted if he took her to Switzerland to kill herself.

Purdy sued and the Lords, the UK’s supreme court, ruled she had a right to know and directed a prosecutor to publish guidelines as to when the current assisted suicide law would and would not be enforced.

Now, the prosecutor, Keir Starmer QC, the director of public prosecutions, has gone beyond the court ruling and decriminalized assisted suicides in the UK committed by friends and relatives of people with terminally illnesses and serious disabilities.

Starmer says only someone who is a “ringleader” or “organizer” of the death of a person who has been “vulnerable to manipulation” can be prosecuted.

In other words, it is no longer illegal to assisted in a suicide but it would be unlawful to encourage one.

Since 1961 assisting a suicide has been punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment in England. The new guidelines will apply to assisted suicides in Britain and overseas, the London Times reported, and the Crown Prosecution Service said there would be no new legislation.

Even the Times admitted that, "It is not yet known how Starmer will deal with the problem of financial gain for the person assisting the suicide."

The publication of the draft prosecuting policy on assisted suicide, which Starmer will release Wednesday, will undermine the right to life of disabled people, the British pro-life group SPUC responded.

Paul Tully, SPUC general secretary, commented: "Earlier this year parliament voted against changing the law even to permit assistance in traveling abroad to commit suicide. Now the legal authorities are forcing a weakening of the law against helping people to kill themselves. There is a democratic deficit in their action."

"The failure in recent years of public authorities, particularly the DPP, to take effective action to prevent high-profile assisted suicides of sick & disabled people has helped to weaken the law. Media focus on such cases has distorted public perception of how and why most suicides happen," he continued.

"Many people know there are around 10 suicides by British people in Zurich each year, but few are aware of the 5000-6000 other suicides to which the media usually gives no attention. Even less media attention is given to the estimated 170,000 instances of self-harm dealt with by hospitals," he said.

American bioethicist Wesley J. Smith responded that the draft policy flings the door "wide open" to assisted suicide in England.

"This further proves assisted suicide is not about terminal illness. This further proves that assisted suicide isn’t a medical act," he said. "It is another illustration how the rule of law is crumbling."

"It sends a loud message that the lives of the terminally ill and disabled are not as worth protecting as those of other people," he continued. "This fiat will guarantee the exploitation and abusive deaths of at least some vulnerable people."

"Mark my words, this decriminalization is only the beginning. Purdy, the court, and the prosecutor have flung the UK off a sheer moral cliff that will dash the sanctity/equality of human life ethic on the sharp rocks of legalized euthanasia and death on demand," he concluded.

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