British Pro-Life Group Says Starmer Guidelines Weaken Assisted Suicide Law

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 25, 2010   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British Pro-Life Group Says Starmer Guidelines Weaken Assisted Suicide Law

by Steven Ertelt Editor
February 25
, 2010

London, England ( — A British pro-life group says the new guidelines Britain’s director of public prosecutions released on how cases of assisted suicide should be tried weakens the U.K. law against assisted suicide. The catalyst for the policy review was the case of Debbie Purdy, a 46-year-old multiple sclerosis patient.

The House of Lords agreed Purdy deserved to know if her husband would be prosecuted if he took her to Switzerland to kill herself.

Such suicide tourism technically violates the Britain assisted suicide law but DPP Keir Starmer, QC, has said people like him would not be prosecuted.

Starmer released 16 reasons for prosecuting and six reasons for not prosecuting such cases and said the factors that will weigh in favor of, or against, prosecution are largely based on whether someone would gain financially or the intent of the assisted suicide.

Starmer said, "The case of Purdy did not change the law, nor does this Policy, and suggestions to the contrary are simply wrong."

If the person aiding the terminally ill person had "reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision to commit suicide" that would represent a reason not to prosecute.

"For example, whether the suspect was wholly motivated by compassion becomes a really central feature of the policy," he said.

But Paul Tully of SPUC Pro-Life, which was officially represented before the courts in the Debbie Purdy case, commented and said the guidelines blunt the law against assisted suicide.

"It is not credible for Keir Starmer to claim that he has not relaxed prosecuting policy on assisted suicide. The new policy effectively decriminalizes assisted suicide in a wide range of circumstances," he told "Assisting suicide is wrong in itself, not merely because there may be coercion or ulterior motives involved. The intentional killing of the innocent is always wrong."

Tully said Starmer is wrong in claiming his policy doesn’t change the law.

"Starmer cannot make this true just by saying it. He must demonstrate his determination to bring prosecutions that euthanasia-sympathetisers in the media will dislike. Such prosecutions will be used to generate vitriol against him by the euthanasia lobby in the BBC and other media and in the judiciary. We saw this in the recent case of Lynn Gilderdale and Mr Justice Bean," he said.

Tully added: "The focus on motivation (why the suspect assisted a suicide) rather than intention (the suspect’s deliberate will to assist the suicide) is a radical departure from the rule of law. The ‘victim’s wish to die’ is the most significant factor now in the guidelines. It is undermines the law, and is the main concession that the euthanasia lobby was seeking. It makes assisted suicide very different from other serious crimes against the person, where consent to becoming a victim is not accepted either as a defense in court or as a factor against prosecution."

"The fact that references to disability have been eliminated will be something of a relief to disabled people and their families, and this eliminates one of the anomalies between this offence-specific code and the general code for Crown Prosecutors. However, the disabled and chronically ill remain the most likely victims of this weakening of the right to life", Tully concluded.

Purdy said in response, according to British media, "They differentiate between malicious intent and compassionate support."

Related web sites:
Society for the Protection of Unborn Children –

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