July 5, 2022

UK assisted suicide guidelines under attack

Public consultation ends next week

Keir Stamer has drawn up interim guidelines for prosecuting participants in assisted suicide

Fears
that Britain might introduce a euthanasia law have been mounting
since September when the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir
Starmer, drew up interim
guidelines
specifying when a person should be prosecuted for
assisting suicide. He said that prosecution was “likely” if the
victim was under 18, had a mental illness or was in good physical
health. It would be unlikely if the victim had a grave illness or
disability, was determined to kill himself and was a close friend or
relative of a helper, who was motivated by compassion.

With
a public consultation on these guidelines ending next week, a world
expert on euthanasia, Professor John Keown, of the Kennedy Institute
of Ethics at Georgetown University, has mauled them in a UK law
magazine. “Justice should be tempered by mercy; not undermined by
it,” he writes.

First,
he says, the guidelines need to make it clear that assisting suicide
remains a serious offence which is punishable by up to 14 years’
imprisonment. Media reports have given the impression that now there
are “exceptions” to the law. Second, a presumption in favour of
prosecution should be maintained. Keown says that the interim
guidelines “signally fail” to do this. Instead, he writes, “They
misleadingly state that the question is whether prosecution ‘is
needed’ in the public interest.”

Finally,
the interim guidelines list 16 circumstances when prosecution is
likely and 13 when it is not likely. There is a danger that the
public prosecutor could become merely an even-handed arbitrator
rather than an enforcer of the law. Furthermore, some factors when
prosecution is unlikely are “problematic” — such as having a
severe and incurable physical disability. This could easily become
discrimination against the disabled, or could allow relatives to
pressure people into killing themselves. ~ New
Law Journal, Dec 11

Michael Cook
assisted suicide
euthanasia
UK