Disability groups play down assisted suicide judgement

An anti-assisted suicide alliance including disability groups has played down the significance of a Law Lords judgement which will provide relatives accompanying loved-ones die abroad with information on whether they would face prosecution.

In a case brought by Debbie Purdy, who has primary progressive multiple sclerosis, the Law Lords ruled unanimously that the Director of Public Prosecutions should produce a policy statement detailing the circumstances in which loved-ones would face prosecution.

Purdy, who has been fighting since 2007 for clarity over whether her husband would be prosecuted for taking her to the Swiss clinic, Dignitas, to die, said she was “ecstatic” at the ruling. However the Care Not Killing alliance, which includes disability organisations Radar and the United Kingdom Disabled People’s Council, said it would simply improve the clarity of the law.

No guarantee husband won’t be prosecuted

The alliance, which is opposed to the liberalisation of the law on assisted suicide, said the Law Lords had pointed out that the DPP’s statement would not provide a guarantee that Purdy’s husband would not be prosecuted.

Care Not Killing also said that the court had recognised that it was parliament’s responsibility to make the law on assisted suicide, and pointed to the House of Lords’ rejection this month of an amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill which would have exempted relatives from prosecution.

However, Dignity in Dying, an organisation which campaigns for terminally-ill adults to have the right to an assisted death in the UK, described yesterday’s verdict as “historic“.

Chief executive Sarah Wootton said: “More and more people want choice about how they end their life. Yet, until now, the law has refused to say whether people would face prosecution for accompanying someone abroad to exercise this choice.”

Parliamentarians ‘under pressure to act’

She said parliamentarians would now come under pressure to “provide a proper solution to this problem, which doesn’t involve exporting it abroad”.

The DPP, Ken Starmer QC, said he intended to produce an interim policy on prosecutions by the end of September, and then hold a public consultation to develop a finalised policy by Spring 2010.

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