Thursday, 30 July 2009

UK House of Lords makes 'significant' decision on assisted suicide

News from the UK House of Lords is that Debbie Purdy has has won a significant legal victory relating to the law in that country on assisted suicide. The Guardian has the initial information on the decision.

The unanimous decision of the court requires that the UK DPP issues a policy setting out when those who assist people to travel overseas to clinics such as the Swiss clinic Dignitas in order to avail of assisted suicide services can expect to be prosecuted. The court ruled that the current lack of clarity in the law is a violation of the right to a private and family life under the UK's Human Rights Act.

Responding to the judgment, Debbie Purdy, who is suffering has primary progressive multiple sclerosis said the decision was about life not death. It allowed her to choose the manner of her own death without running the risk that her husband, Omar Puente, will be prosecuted. Such a prosecution would take place under the 1961 Suicide Act which makes it illegal to "aid, abet, counsel or procure the suicide of another". Helping somebody to die carries a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

The DPP, Keir Starmer, has now announced that he accepts the decision and will publish the policy as required. He plans to publish an interim policy by the end of September to respond in particular the Debbie Purdy's case. Following that, he will carry out a public consultation before drawing up and publishing a final policy on the matter.

All parties seem to be in agreement that a public debate on the issue is essential to establishing a clear and successful approach to assisted suicide.

On the question of the right to privacy and the House of Lords decision in this case see the following article in the Guardian.

The Guardian Newspaper has (very) full coverage of the assisted suicide debate including todays news that a former GP has challenged the authorities to prosecute him under the Suicide Act 1961 in order to challenge the "hypocracy" of a system which allows the wealthy to travel to Switzerland's Dignitas clinic for euthanasia, something which the poor cannot do.

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