Prosecutors in Britain have issued new guidelines on assisted suicide for the terminally ill. The emphasis should now be on the motivation of the person assisting in the suicide of a loved one, according to the ruling issued on Thursday.
The guidelines stem from the case of British woman Debbie Purdy who suffers from multiple sclerosis. She is afraid her husband might face prosecution for helping her to die:
Speaking about the new guidelines, Purdy said: “I think it’s a brilliant step. I think it’s as far as is possible considering we have a 1961 law and it’s the interpretation of that law. But that law is older than me.”
The new guidelines are not a change in the law in Britain, where assisted suicide can carry a 14 year jail sentence.
Some critics fear vulnerable people could be bullied into suicide by self-interested relatives.
Margie Woodward, who has cerebral palsy, works as an empowerment coordinator with disabled people in adult services. She expressed her fears: “But a real concern is that disabled people just might be persuaded that their life is not worth living, when it is.”
The guidelines list 16 reasons for prosecuting and six for not. One of the factors that could justify prosecution is if the person assisting in the suicide stood to gain from the death.