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UK chief prosecutor publishes new policy on assisted suicide

[JURIST] UK Director of Public Prosecutions (DDP), Keir Starmer [official profile], published a new policy [text; press release] on Thursday for prosecutors in regards to cases of assisted suicide [JURIST news archive]. While the new policy does not legalize assisted suicide, it introduces six public interest considerations against prosecution, including compassion of the suspect, an effort to dissuade the victim, and reporting the suicide to the police. Starmer developed the new policy by gathering public opinion through a consultation process [materials], which garnered more than 5,000 responses. The DDP assured the public that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) [official website] will follow the new policy:

The policy is now more focused on the motivation of the suspect rather than the characteristics of the victim. The policy does not change the law on assisted suicide. It does not open the door for euthanasia. It does not override the will of Parliament. What it does is to provide a clear framework for prosecutors to decide which cases should proceed to court and which should not. ... As a result of the [public consultations] there have been changes to the policy. But that does not mean prosecutions are more or less likely. The policy has not been relaxed or tightened but there has been a change of focus.

Starmer went on to say that case assessment will not rely solely on public interest factors. Each case will be decided on its own facts and merits.

The new policy will replace an interim policy [JURIST report] set up by the DDP in September. The interim policy was published pursuant to a July order [judgment text; JURIST report] from the UK Law Lords [official website] to clarify the issue. The order resulted from a case brought by Debbie Purdy, a multiple sclerosis sufferer, who wants to travel to Switzerland with her husband to end her life. Under the country's Suicide Act 1961 [text], Purdy's husband faces criminal liability for aiding her suicide in another country. Many Britons have reportedly gone to the Dignitas clinic [website, in German] in Switzerland to obtain assisted suicides. Also in July, the House of Lords rejected a bill [JURIST report] that would would have barred prosecuting those who go abroad to help others commit assisted suicide. Last year, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown [official website] spoke out against laws allowing assisted suicide [BBC report], saying that he would not create laws that "put pressure on people to end their lives."

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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