UK Publishes New Rules for Assisted Suicide

Vanessa Estime

On Feb. 25, new rules implicated immediately by the House of Lords were set up to help the citizens of London and Wales end the life of a gravely ill family member with little fear of criminal prosecution. Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutors, stated that six factors would lessen the likelihood of criminal prosecutors bringing charges to individual cases. Nevertheless, prosecutors will still review each case for potential prosecution. One important element of the whole situation is if the suspect was acting out of compassion for the sick patient or if he or she had a sinister motive. Starmer is reported as saying, “The policy is now more focused on the motivation of the subject 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.”

Starmer brought up the circumstances of Debbie Purdy, a multiple sclerosis victim, whose wish is that her husband would help end her life when she chooses without facing criminal charges. Purdy commented on the current issue of assisted suicide and said that a completely new law presiding over assisted suicide is required to substitute the current law, which was written over fifty years ago. She also suggested that tribunals should be created to hear individual cases before a patient decides to kill him or herself. The family members can then be then told where they stand legally before taking any further steps to help in the suicide. Terry Pratchett, a British author suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, said, “I would like to see death as a medical procedure—in very carefully chosen cases.”He believes that he should be able to end his life before the diseases leave him helpless.

Starmer was noted as saying that different factors would help lessen criminal charges, such as a victim making a comprehensible and voluntary informed decision to end his or her life, a suspect notifying the police of the suicide and his or her involved role, and when a suspect tried to dissuade the patient from choosing suicide. Starmer also brought up the reasons that criminal charges might be filed: the victim was a minor, and that he or she did not have the intellectual capacity to make an informed decision or was pressured to commit suicide. Other issues could be that the suspect had been previously violent towards the patient or the suspect had not been sought by the patient to help.