Bioethics Blogs

Assisted Suicide: A Better Alternative

The new DPP Alison Saunders has clarified the Policy for Prosecutors in Respect of Cases of Encouraging or Assisting Suicide issued by the previous DPP, Keir Starmer, in 2010. This has led to claims by right to life groups that assisted suicide will be available in the UK. This is, I argue, false. Assisted suicide remains a crime. I argue a better alternative under current law is Voluntary Palliated Starvation. This could render unconscious patients who embark on suicide by starvation and dehydration, such as the recent tragic case of Mrs Jean Davies. This could be lawful under current law and acceptable to doctors who do not wish to kill, but wish to relieve suffering.

On October 16, the Director of Public Prosecutions clarified the CPS Policy on cases of encouraging or assisting suicide:

“In considering the section which indicates the likelihood of prosecution of health care professionals, the DPP has made it clear that this refers to those with a specific and professional duty of care to the person in question.

The relevant paragraph offers guidance on cases where the suspect is “acting in his or her capacity as a medical doctor, nurse, other healthcare professional, a professional carer [whether for payment or not], or as a person in authority, such as a prison officer, and the victim was in his or her care”.

During earlier proceedings in the Court of Appeal, the then Lord Chief Justice interpreted this guidance to mean that if a person operating in one of the prescribed professions had cared for a victim to the extent that they were in a position of authority, and may have been able to use that authority to exercise undue influence over the victim, then this may be considered as a factor tending in favour of prosecution.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.