25/02/2010

New Assisted Suicide Policy Revealed

Assisted suicide law in the UK was today clarified by the head of Public Prosecutions.

Keir Starmer said the public can have "full confidence" in the policy the Crown Prosecution Service will follow in deciding whether or not to prosecute cases of assisted suicide.

However, a clear distinction has been made between assisted suicide and so-called mercy killings.

Mr Starmer published the policy after receiving thousands of responses to what is reportedly the most extensive snapshot of public opinion on assisted suicide since the Suicide Act 1961 was introduced.

Nearly 5,000 responses were submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) following the consultation exercise launched in September.

Mr Starmer said: "The policy is now more focused on the motivation of the suspect rather than the characteristics of the victim. The policy does not change the law on assisted suicide. It does not open the door for euthanasia.

"It does not override the will of Parliament. What it does is to provide a clear framework for prosecutors to decide which cases should proceed to court and which should not.

"Assessing whether a case should go to court is not simply a question of adding up the public interest factors for and against prosecution and seeing which has the greater number. It is not a tick-box exercise. Each case has to be considered on its own facts and merits."

Several public interest factors will be weighed to assess whether prosecution is appropriate.

The age of the victim and their mental capacity will be looked at. It should be proved the victim reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision to commit suicide.

Prosecution will be pursued if the victim had not clearly and unequivocally communicated his or her decision to commit suicide to the suspect.

The suspect must prove they were not wholly motivated by compassion; for example, the suspect was motivated by the prospect that he or she or a person closely connected to him or her stood to gain in some way from the death of the victim.

Prosecution will be taken if the suspect pressured the victim to commit suicide or had a history of violence or abuse against the victim.

If the suspect was unknown to the victim and encouraged or assisted the victim to commit or attempt to commit suicide by providing specific information via, for example, a website or publication legal action will be taken.

Someone paid by the victim or those close to the victim for his or her encouragement or assistance will face prosecution.

Doctors, nurses or other persons in authority will face prosecution if they assist a suicide.

The courts will not become involved if the victim had reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision to commit suicide and the suspect was wholly motivated by compassion.

The suspect must prove they had sought to dissuade the victim from taking the course of action which resulted in his or her suicide.

If the suspect reports the victim's suicide to the police and fully assists enquiries prosecution will be less likely.

The guidance has not changed the law; assisted suicide is illegal and carries a jail term of up to 14 years.

(PR/BMcC)

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