Elderly and disabled could be 'forced to commit suicide' under changes to rules

08:09 by Editor · 0 Post a comment on AAWR

Increasing numbers of elderly and infirm people will be pressured into killing themselves under changes to assisted suicide rules, it has been claimed.

A group of leading lawyers, peers and former judges including Baroness Butler-Sloss, the former head of the family division of the High Court, are warning that the plans pose “serious dangers for public safety”.

In a significant intervention, they are warning the proposed changes go against the will of Parliament and risk reducing the Director of Public Prosecutions from an enforcer of the law, to an arbitrator.

Baroness Butler-Sloss, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, a former Lord Chancellor, and Lord Carlile of Berriew, the Government’s terrorism legislation adviser, are among those have come together in an unprecdented coalition to express concern about the impact of the changes proposed by Keir Starmer, the DPP.

In September, he published a list of factors to help lawyers to decide whether to prosecute people for assisting suicide. The rules have been interpreted by some campaigners as a way of “legalising” assisted suicide.

The DPP has now launched a consultion on the guidance which says that families who help terminally ill loved ones to end their lives are unlikely to face prosecution as long as they do not encourage them and assist only a clear and settled intention to die.

But the group - which also includes Lord Walton of Detchant, Professor Sheila Hollins, a former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Baroness Campbell of Surbiton - says the new guidance is “not fit for purpose”.

The group has signed up to a hard-hitting response to the proposals from campaign group Care Not Killing, in which it warns that changes to the law could mean that the lives of stroke-sufferers, disabled people and those with arthritis, could be at risk.

It says: “Among the factors proposed as tending against prosecution are that the deceased was seriously ill or incurably disabled or had a history of suicide attempts. In Care Not Killing’s view these proposals are discriminatory as well as dangerous.”

The proposal that serious illness or disability might be a mitigating factor in whether to prosecute someone for assisting a suicide “flies in the face of the declared will of Parliament”, which has twice in the past four years rejected legalisation of assisted suicide in such cases.

Peter Saunders, the director of Care Not Killing, said: “The current law acts as a powerful deterrent against abuse and exploitation of vulnerable people and has been firmly upheld by Parliament.

“Removing these safeguards could lead to increase in vulnerable and disabled people being pressured into ending their lives.”

The 34-page response also warns that Mr Starmer’s role would be altered from an enforcer of the law to an arbitrator if the changes went ahead. It says: “Such an impression, were it to take hold, poses serious dangers for public safety.”

The group also condemned the wording of the guidelines, suggesting that they “pose serious risks of misinterpretation” and there were “serious defects” in some of the proposed reasons for charging.

In all, 11 of the 29 specific criteria proposed for deciding whether to prosecute or not to prosecute were judged to be “unacceptable in any circumstances”.

Dr Saunders added: “We recognise the attempt that the DPP has made to carry out a very difficult remit given to him by the Law Lords, and there are several aspects of the guidelines that we can support.

“But current guidelines adopt, however unwittingly, the political assumptions of the pro-euthanasia lobby, that assisted suicide will not be prosecuted if the right boxes are ticked.”

The group suggested that the guidance “should start with a clear statement that assisting a suicide is a criminal offence and that, in the absence of a decision by Parliament to change the law, it will remain so”.

They warned against giving spouses, partners, close relatives and personal friends “special category status” as assisters of suicide.

They said: “While it is conceivable that a spouse or close family member might assist a suicide out of a feeling of compassion for the victim, the reality is that many cases of abuse, and especially elder abuse, are committed within the family environment.

“The notion that those closest to the victim are necessarily 'loved ones’ is fallacious.”

The group also asked how these proposals would affect “institutions such as prisons or mental hospitals in which prisoners or patients considered to be at risk of self-harm are placed on 'suicide watch’ in order to prevent or frustrate suicide attempts.

“What about paramedics or doctors and nurses in hospital A&E departments who, under existing arrangements, are required to try and resuscitate those who have attempted suicide?” continues here

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