Legal clarity is in the interest of all

By Simon Beard
September 23, 2009

All sides of the assisted dying debate should welcome the publication, by the director of public prosecutions, of the factors that are to be taken into consideration when applying the law on assisted suicide.

For those who support assisted dying this represents a real breakthrough in giving comfort and confidence to individuals seeking assistance to die that their relatives will not be prosecuted for giving them help.

For those who oppose assisted dying it represents a real breakthrough in holding a frank and honest discussion on current legal practice with regards to assisted suicide, and a chance to make the case that the DPP’s judgements are not sound.

If there is need for a tighter law to prevent individuals travelling abroad to die then the publication makes clear what that law must include. For instance it is now clear that the law needs changing if it is to reflect the views of people who believe that nobody is mentally competent to end their own lives or that it is impossible to render assistance to an individual to end their life without persuading or pressurising them to do so.

In July, the House of Lords voted to reject an amendment to the Coroners and Justice bill that sought to legalise assisted suicide within a framework of legal safeguards. It is now clear that the amendment they rejected would have tightened legal practice in certain respects, for instance by limiting protection from prosecution to only those who were terminally ill.

This clearly illustrates the extent to which parliament has been shooting ‘in the dark’ on this law for the last 48 years.

However, it will now be able to properly consider whether the law should be either tightened up or loosened when the coroners and justice bill enters its report stage in the House of Lords next month.

Both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales have reserved judgement on the Director of Public Prosecution’s actions for the present time.

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