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UK assisted suicide guidelines move towards a more humane aid in dying policy

Barbara Coombs Lee [President, Compassion and Choices]: "The prosecutorial guidelines provide a bit of comfort and security for those citizens of the UK who would like to accompany a loved one to Switzerland if they chose to die at a clinic there. These family members embody the criteria making prosecution less likely - they are family, their role is supportive, not coercive, and accompaniment alone probably does not rise to the level of "aiding and abetting."

The fact the guidelines are issued at all represents a major watershed. It shows the law is no longer hard and fast in the area of assisted dying, and there is room in the law for a merciful, caring approach. Overwhelming majorities support legalization of what we call "aid in dying" - the ability of a terminally ill, mentally competent adult to request and receive life-ending medication, which they may choose to take by self-administration if suffering becomes intolerable. This assurance has become a necessity for peace of mind in an age when medical science has turned the dying process into a long, slow, tortuous path of pain and degradation of function and personhood.

The Law Lords took a small step in asking for publication of prosecutorial guidelines and the prosecutor took a small step in complying. But it is small comfort indeed, for most dying patients have neither the means nor the functional capability to travel to another continent, and they do not want to die among strangers in a foreign, impersonal clinic. People want an option to unbearable suffering, but they want to die in their own home, among the things and people they love. They want their own doctor to be able to provide to them the means to a peaceful and humane death. This is not too much to ask and the law should provide it."

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.

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Professional Commentary is JURIST's platform for newsmakers, activists and legal experts to comment on national and international legal developments.

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