The assisted suicide debate will be interpreted in multiple ways

Yesterday, Parliament debated the motion, “That this House welcomes the Director of Public Prosecutions’ Policy for Prosecutors in Respect of Cases of Encouraging or Assisting Suicide, published in February 2010.” The Policy is available here. It says in particular,

This policy does not in any way “decriminalise” the offence of encouraging or assisting suicide. Nothing in this policy can be taken to amount to an assurance that a person will be immune from prosecution if he or she does an act that encourages or assists the suicide or the attempted suicide of another person.

During pre-debate lobbying and the debate itself, it emerged that pro-decriminalisation campaigners saw Parliament’s approval of DPP guidelines as a step along the road to their objective. This can be seen today on the Dignity in Dying website, in the article, Victory for compassion as MPs unanimously support non prosecution of compassionate amateur assistance to die.  There, Dignity in Dying chief executive Sarah Wootton has said: 

The passing of Richard Ottaway’s motion represents a landmark in the evolution of a more compassionate approach to end-of-life decision making.  There is no appetite from the public or the Courts to prosecute those who compassionately assist a loved one to die, at their request.  Parliament has shown a consensus of support for this approach, as well as recognising that we must continuing to develop end-of-life care for all.

Those who check Hansard will find that a number of us spoke in debate, one way or another, to reaffirm that assisting suicide is a crime which should not be normalised. For example, I asked the Solicitor General:

Whereas the guidance at paragraph 6 is clear that it does not decriminalise the offence, if the remainder of the guidance were put on to statute, would that not therefore decriminalise assisted suicide, and is not that the crucial difference?

Robert Halfon MP spoke particularly powerfully about why assisting suicide should not be normalised. His related article is here.

The truth is that Dame Joan Ruddock’s attempt to invite the Government to consult as to whether to put the guidance on a statutory basis was defeated. Parliament does not want to normalise assisted suicide and, for most of us, our welcome of the DPP’s guidance reaffirms the view that life is precious and that assisting suicide  is a criminal offence, albeit one which it may not always be in the public interest to prosecute.

For more information, please see Hansard and, in particular, the Solicitor General’s brilliant speech.

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