Since the 7 July defeat in the House of Lords of the Falconer amendment, (1) and after a final failed attempt to amend it by Lord Alderdice, the Coroners and Justice Bill has thankfully passed through both Houses of Parliament unchanged. It can now no longer be used as a vehicle by the pro-euthanasia lobby. (2)
However, on 30 July campaigner Debbie Purdy won her House of Lords case seeking 'clarity' about whether people taking 'loved ones' to Zurich to end their lives would face prosecution.
In passing judgment (3) the Law Lords required the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Keir Starmer, to produce an 'offence-specific' policy outlining the 'facts and circumstances' to be taken into account in deciding whether or not it was 'in the public interest' in specific cases to prosecute under the Suicide Act 1961.
The DPP published his 'interim guidance' on 23 September, and after a consultation 4 lasting until 16 December, will publish definitive guidance in spring 2010.
The Care Not Killing Alliance (CNK), of which CMF is a founder member, and for which I act as honorary Campaign Director, published its comprehensive analysis 5 of the draft guidance on 15 November. CNK's position is that the guidance 'is not fit for purpose in its current form' and that there are 'serious defects both in its underlying principles and in several of the specific prosecution criteria proposed'. Of the 29 criteria six were deemed 'acceptable', 12 'acceptable only if amended' and a further 11 'unacceptable in any circumstances'.
Particular concern was focused on the following 'less likely to prosecute' categories which CNK believes 'pose serious dangers to public safety':
- the victim is disabled or seriously/terminally ill – despite Parliament having repeatedly voted against changing the law in this regard;
- the victim has attempted suicide before – even though this history often indicates mental illness and in prisons or hospitals is grounds for extra vigilance;
- the 'assister' is a spouse, partner, or close family member – even though elder abuse (physical, emotional and financial) often occurs within so called 'loving families'.
Meanwhile, Margo MacDonald MSP has obtained the signatures necessary for her 'End of Life – Choices' Bill to be debated in the Scottish Parliament. It could not progress through all its stages until 2010 at the earliest, but whatever happens in Westminster after the General Election, this would not affect Scotland which has devolved health powers.
Christian doctors should become informed about the current legal position and do all we can to prevent any legal sanctioning of assisted suicide.