The Great Debate UK

Law on assisted suicide would end unnecessary suffering



- Sarah Wootton is Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying. The opinions expressed are her own -

The decision made by the House of Lords in the case of multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy was historic, and a milestone in the campaign for greater choice at the end of life. Lord Brown said “what in mind is needed is custom-built policy statement indicating the various factors for and against prosecution… factors designed to distinguish between those situations in which, however attempted to assist, the prospective aider and abettor should refrain from doing so, and those situations in which he or she may fairly hope to be, if not commended, at the very least forgiven, rather than condemned, for giving assistance”.

In effect the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) will now have to set out the factors which distinguish between two classes of people who help people to travel abroad for an assisted death where it is legal: the compassionate assisters and the malicious encouragers. Consequently, people will be much clearer as to whether they will face prosecution. This will have the effect of relieving the anxiety of relatives at a time of great emotional stress, as well as giving a strong signal to those who want to coerce relatives that they are likely to face the full weight of the law.

Opponents of assisted dying for the terminally ill argue that the current law works as a deterrent. But let’s make things clear: people are not deterred by a law which isn’t enforced – as is currently the case. This is clearly shown by the fact that at least 117 Britons have already travelled abroad to die. Only eight of those cases have even been investigated by the DPP and none prosecuted.