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SPUC criticises Law Lords over judgment on assisted suicide

30 July 2009

SPUC criticises Law Lords over judgment on assisted suicide London, 30 July 2009 - The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) has criticised senior judges for supporting assisted suicide in their judgment today in the case of Ms Debbie Purdy.

Paul Tully, SPUC general secretary, said: "This judgment is plainly directed at getting the law changed, despite the insistence by several of the judges that that is not their purpose. None of the five judges suggests that it is wrong in general to help suicidal people with disabilities or degenerative conditions to kill themselves - and one suggests that bankruptcy or the grief of bereavement can be equally good reasons to commit suicide. Another of the Law Lords argues that some people assisting suicide should be commended for their criminal actions." The judgment requires the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to issue guidance on when he will or will not prosecute those who criminally assist suicide. The offence under the Suicide Act covers a person who "aids, abets, counsels or procures" the suicide of another. The judgment directs that the new policy should cover "a case such as that which Mrs Purdy's case exemplifies". Not only is the ruling dangerous but it is also unclear.

Paul Tully said: "The judgment reflects the context of a relative giving someone travel assistance to go to Switzerland or other place where assistance to commit suicide might be regarded as legal. However, the judges don't make clear, for example, whether they think those who encourage a suicide, rather than just assist the process, should be prosecuted. It is unclear what guidance is expected of the DPP on such points. "Most people with long-term disabilities, degenerative diseases or terminal illness do not seek to commit suicide, yet their lives could be undermined by this judgment. They may feel under pressure to kill themselves because they think they are a burden on others. "The ruling fails to recognise the social problem of suicide, which currently affects between 5,000 and 6,000 families a year in Britain. This number could grow very substantially as a result of this ruling. "One judge says he thought no-one would support a prosecution of parents who helped their disabled son to commit suicide. But this view fails to balance sympathy for the relatives of a suicidal person with the need to affirm the worth of people with disability. It also appears to show ignorance of demands from disability activists that their right to life must be upheld." All five law Lords agreed to Ms Purdy's demand that the DPP should publish a policy setting out the factors that will be taken into account when deciding whether to prosecute people for assisting suicide. SPUC intervened in the case. It intends to make a representation to the DPP on this policy.

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