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Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS)

Events in the United Kingdom: 2007 to now

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Activities in England, Wales and Scotland:

bullet2009-JUN: Amendment proposed: Lord Falconer of Thoroton tabled an amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill to allow an individual to assist another person who is leaving e the country to commit suicide. The current laws forbid such help; however is is not usually enforced. He notes that some people leave the UK to commit suicide alone, where:

"...they die in the hands of strangers. ... The amendment I am tabling to the Coroners and Justice Bill does not make it an easier for people to go to Switzerland to die in a Dignitas clinic. They can already do this. Rather, it is making sure that the law reflects the sensible position adopted to date by the courts and the [Director of Public Prosecutions] DPP, while protecting people from abuse."

Some investigations have been conducted concerning persons who have traveled with a relative to Switzerland for assisted suicide. No charges have been laid.

Lord Alton of Liverpool, however, said that the bill marks the beginning of the creation of a death cult. It is not the terminally-ill but the perfectly healthy we are talking about. (This appears to be a reference to the Swiss group Dignitas who assists persons to commit suicide who are physically healthy but who are suffering from untreatable depression.) 1

bullet2009-JUL: Amendment to be debated: The House of Lords is scheduled to debate Lord Falconer's proposal that people not be prosecuted for helping a terminally ill persons to travel outside the country to obtain help in committing suicide. More than 100 people from the UK have gone to Swiss clinic Dignitas. Many have been investigated by the police, but nobody yet has been prosecuted.

His proposed amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill would give helpers immunity from prosecution if two doctors confirm that the individual seeking help is terminally ill and sufficient competent to make such a decision.

Lord Falconer said: "No one has the stomach to enforce the current law, because it is inhumane and further provides no protection for the vulnerable. The threat [of prosecution] forces some people to go to die alone and earlier than otherwise for fear of what may happen to those who accompany them."

His move is being supported by Dignity in Dying. They found in a poll of of over 1,700 people that two thirds supported this type of change in the law

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said: "Parliament finally has the opportunity to listen to the public and act on the issue. I hope they have the courage to do what is desperately needed and change the law to end the unnecessary threat of prosecution while safeguarding against abuse."

Dr Peter Saunders, of the Care Not Killing Alliance, an umbrella group of doctors, religious organizations and charities, expressed concern that a change in the law might lead to vulnerable people being persuaded against their wishes into going to clinics like Dignitas. He feels that the current law is working well. He said: "It has a stern face to deter abuse and a kind heart to allow compassion in hard cases." 2
bullet2009-JUL: Director of Public Prosecutions ordered to clarify law: Debbie Purdy, 46, has been pursuing a court case for over two years in an attempt to clarify Britain's laws on assisted suicide. She has had a partial success. The House of Lords -- Britain's highest court -- has now ordered the director of public prosecutions to spell out precisely the criteria under which they would prosecute an individual who assisted in a suicide.

Her situation is similar to that seen in many families where a fatally ill person wants to travel to Switzerland with one or more loved ones, and arrange their death with dignity. But Britain's 1901 ambiguous assisted suicide law could be used to mount a prosecution of anyone who accompanied her or helped her make the trip. Depending on how the law is interpreted, anyone who helped with travel arrangements, or who drove her to the airport, or who sat with her on the airplane, etc. could conceivably be prosecuted and given a sentence of up to 14 years. In the past, the prosecutor has been indifferent to the needs of the families; this greatly intensifies the anxiety of all concerned.

Debbie is dying of MS and wants to die on her own terms next to her husband. She said:
"I'm ecstatic. I want to live my life to the full, but I don't want to suffer unnecessarily at the end of my life. This decision means that I can make an informed choice, with Omar (Puente, her husband), about whether he travels abroad with me to end my life."

If the court had ruled against her, she was willing to go to Switzerland by herself and die alone without her husband's support. 3

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Alex Bush, "UK Considers Euthanasia Amendment: 'Beginning of the Creation of a Death Cult' Says Lord Alton," LifeSiteNews, 2009-JUN-06, at: http://www.lifesitenews.com/
  2. "Assisted dying law to be debated," BBC News, 2009-JUL-06, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk
  3. "UK legal victory for assisted suicide campaign," CNN, 2009-JUL-30, at: http://www.cnn.com/

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Home page > "Hot" topics  > Assisted Suicide > here

or: Home page > "Hot" topics  > Suicide menu > Assisted Suicide > here

Copyright 1999 to 2009, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-AUG-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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