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.


Related UK National News Stories
Click here for the latest headlines.

19 November 2008
'Completed Suicide' Likely In Year After Attempt, Says BMJ
People who have tried to kill themselves and are suffering from major depression or schizophrenia are at a very high risk of actually committing suicide within a year of their first attempt, concludes a study published today on a leading medical website. The British Medical Journal's bmj.
10 September 2012
£1.5m Investment Into Suicide Prevention Research
The government has announced an investment of £1.5m to explore how to prevent suicides among those most at risk of taking their own lives.
25 January 2011
Female Suicide Bomber Suspected In Russian Blast
A female suicide bomber is believed to be responsible for the airport bombing in Russia which killed at least 35 people including one Briton. The blast, which took place at Domodedovo airport, left over 100 people injured. Russian authorities have said two Britons were among those killed however the Foreign Office can only confirm one.
12 November 2010
Having Severe Acne May Increase Suicide Risk 

Individuals who suffer from severe acne are at an increased risk of attempting suicide, according to a paper published on bmj.com today. 

 The British Medical Journal study also finds that an additional risk may be present during and up to one year after treatment with isotretinoin, a commonly prescribed drug for severe acne.
06 May 2010
Inquest Opens On Strangled Pregnant Bride
An inquest into the death of a pregnant newlywed who was found strangled in 2008 has begun. Kuldeep Kaur Sidhu was found strangled, hanged and burned alongside a fake suicide note accusing her husband of having an affair. She was discovered half naked with a rope around her neck following a fire at her home in Birmingham in May 2008.