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Disabled people face legal downgrade in DPP assisted suicide guidelines

23 September 2009

Disabled people face legal downgrade in DPP assisted suicide guidelines London, 23 September 2009 - A group which was officially represented in the Debbie Purdy case has made a detailed response to new guidelines on prosecuting assisted suicide.

SPUC Pro-Life http://www.spuc.org.uk/ was responding to the new interim policy issued today by Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions (DPP).

In summary, SPUC Pro-Life's detailed response is that the interim policy: * says prosecutions will be less likely in cases where the deceased had been disabled or terminally ill * will legally downgrade the right to life of disabled or terminally-ill people * confirms the fears of disabled people that the law deems their lives to be inferior * contradicts the fairness and objectivity requirements of the existing general code for prosecutors * will be a useful guide to anyone who wants to promote the suicide of their troublesome relatives with impunity * goes against the government's national suicide prevention strategy.

SPUC Pro-Life will be encouraging disability groups, and all those affected by suicides and suicide attempts, to lobby the DPP to enforce the law against assisted suicide justly and fairly.

SPUC Pro-Life's response in detail: Paul Tully, SPUC Pro-Life's general secretary, commented: "The new interim policy for prosecuting assisted suicide issued by the director of public prosecutions (DPP) today confirms the fears of disabled people that their lives are regarded as of inferior quality by the law." SPUC Pro-Life had intervener status in the Purdy case, which gave rise to the new prosecuting policy.

Mr Tully continued: "The right to life of terminally-ill and disabled people will be legally downgraded under this policy, despite the lip-service paid to the right to life of disabled people during the House of Lords hearing." "This is a subtle but significant downgrading of disabled people - we are seeing withdrawal of legal protection by stealth. "In the newly-published prosecuting policy, physical disability of a suicide victim is listed among the factors that count against prosecuting someone who either encourages or helps a suicide", said Mr Tully.

The document says: "The policy says that it is a 'factor against prosecution' if the victim had: * a terminal illness; or * a severe and incurable physical disability; or * a severe degenerative physical condition;from which there was no possibility of recovery" (p5, (4))

Mr Tully commented: "This stands in stark contradiction to the existing general code of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) which says: * "Crown Prosecutors must be fair, independent and objective. They must not let any personal views about ethnic or national origin, disability, sex, religious beliefs, political views or the sexual orientation of the suspect, victim or witness influence their decisions. They must not be affected by improper or undue pressure from any source."

Mr Tully said: "This new assisted suicide policy introduces pressure on Crown Prosecutors from within the service to be unfair and subjective.

Mr Tully added: "The new policy as drafted will be a useful guide to anyone who wants to promote the suicide of their troublesome relatives with impunity. Among the factors that count against a prosecution are that the victim: * indicated unequivocally to the suspect that he or she wished to commit suicide * asked personally on his or her own initiative for the assistance of the suspect.

Mr Tully continued: "Knowing these factors will help the perpetrators of crime avoid prosecution, simply by making statements about what the victim allegedly said to them - and the victims will not be able to deny it. "Today's policy not only contradicts the CPS prosecuting code, it also goes against the government's National Suicide Prevention Strategy, which seeks to identify and dissuade people at risk of committing suicide. The DPP's new policy says that encouraging or helping someone with a history of suicide attempts is less rather than more likely to deserve prosecution. This contradicts the positive approach of the suicide prevention strategy, which seeks to identify potential suicides and ensure that they get the help they need to give them hope. This is vital for the many thousands of people each year who become suicidal and need positive support", concluded Mr Tully.

SPUC Pro-Life will be encouraging disability groups, and all those affected by suicides and suicide attempts, to lobby the DPP to enforce the law against assisted suicide justly and fairly.


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