UK House of Commons Essentially Decriminalizes Euthanasia

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 28, 2012   |   5:16PM   |   London, England

The House of Commons is upsetting pro-life advocates in England by essentially decriminalizing assisted suicide by welcoming new guidelines that make it so people engaging in so-called suicide tourism will not be prosecuted.

Paul Tully, the general secretary for SPUC, a British pro-life group, said the House of Commons passed unopposed a motion to “welcome” the Director of Public Prosecutions’ (DPP) policy on prosecuting assisted suicide and said it undermines society’s protection of the most vulnerable.

SPUC Pro-Life has warned that the DPP’s guidance effectively decriminalises assisted suicide by removing any realistic chance of prosecutions for assisting suicide. The guidance was published following the successful court challenge by euthanasia supporter Debbie Purdy.

“Listening to the debate, it was clear that MPs opposed to assisted suicide had the moral high ground,” Tully said. “The dangers for vulnerable people were well described by new MPs like Paul Maynard and Fiona Bruce; and long-standing members like Frank Field and Dr John Pugh warned of the serious consequences to which assisted suicide leads.”

Tully added, “It belies the substance of the debate that the motion was allowed to pass without going to a division. The DPP’s prosecuting policy has emptied the Suicide Act, which sets out the crime of assisting suicide, of its meaning and much of its force. The DPP’s policy should be rescinded or revised to ensure the right to life for all.”

During the debate, disabled MP Paul Maynard said assisted suicide sends message that some lives (e.g. disabled) are not worth living. Legal assisted suicide for one person would diminish the value of the life of every person, he said. He also said that the true definition of compassion is being lost: it is not feeling sorry for someone but ‘fellow suffering’.

Fiona Bruce MP said that UK is world-leader in hospice care. It prioritizes care, not ending life. A palliative care specialist told Mrs Bruce that doctors are concerned that legal assisted suicide would put them in very difficult position regarding their patients.

Glenda Jackson MP said that Lord Falconer’s Commission on Assisted Dying was biased and funded by assisted suicide lobby.

The British government has ignored and failed to prosecute people in dozens of assisted suicide cases after it changed its rules on prosecution following the British House of Lords siding with Debbie Purdy in her high-profile case.

The House of Lords said Purdy can avoid the national law, which has rarely been enforced, making it so anyone assisting in a suicide could receive as much as 14 years in prison for doing so. British law covers a person who “aids, abets, counsels or procures” the suicide of another person — which would theoretically include anyone who takes someone to another country for an assisted suicide or helps people kill themselves in England.

The London Telegraph newspaper reports44 people have been killed in assisted suicides since the Purdy case and the rules change, and none of the people involved in killing the U.K. citizens have been prosecuted. The official figures from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) are the first since the court ruled and the actual number of cases may be higher if police dropped the case or failed to report it to CPS.

Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions who upset pro-life advocates by changing the prosecution rules, told the newspaper he thinks the number of assisted suicide cases are on the rise now that they are essentially decriminalized.

“There have been more cases – not a huge explosion but more than happened before,” he said. “I think one of the reasons that there have been more cases since the assisted suicide guidance came out is that people feel more confident to come forward and say what they’ve done because they’ve got a degree of clarity about what might happen to them.”

The newspaper indicates the 44 cases are a combination of people dying in Britain and abroad as the number of people killed at Dignitas suicide clinics in Switzerland rose from 15 in 2003 to 27 in 2009 and another four people died thanks to Ex-International, which also facilitates suicide

SPUC said it is not surprised by the numbers, saying, “SPUC warned when guidelines were published that it could lead to the de facto decriminalization of assisted suicide.”

But Purdy claimed the ruling would not lead to an increase in suicide tourism or people hoping to kill loved ones, saying, “I don’t think there is going to be a rush to get Auntie May to the knacker’s yard because they want to inherit her house.”

Paul Tully, the general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children condemned the ruling at the time.

“The judgment reflects the context of a relative giving someone travel assistance to go to Switzerland or other place where assistance to commit suicide might be regarded as legal. However, the judges don’t make clear, for example, whether they think those who encourage a suicide, rather than just assist the process, should be prosecuted,’ he said.

“It is unclear what guidance is expected of the DPP on such points,” Tully added. “Most people with long-term disabilities, degenerative diseases or terminal illness do not seek to commit suicide, yet their lives could be undermined by this judgment. They may feel under pressure to kill themselves because they think they are a burden on others.”