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Dignity in Dying responds to change in DPP’s prosecution guidelines on assisted suicide

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has made a small change to the prosecuting policy on assisted suicide as it applies to healthcare professionals. In June the Supreme Court made it clear that it expected the DPP to review the prosecuting policy on assisted suicide in relation to healthcare professionals, with President of the Supreme Court Lord Neuberger stating: “If the DPP’s policy does not mean what she intends it to mean, and this has been made clear in open court, then it is her duty…to ensure that the confusion is resolved.”

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said:

“This very small change to the policy addresses – to some degree – the points made in the Supreme Court but does nothing to improve the situation of patients who would like to at least consider assisted dying.

“The change to the prosecuting policy makes clear that a healthcare professional who assists a patient to end their life in the context of an ongoing caring relationship is more likely to be prosecuted than a healthcare professional who assists outside of that context. This seems to send a strange message to patients – effectively that they should not seek help from healthcare professionals who know them and their medical history, and who they as patients trust, but instead seek advice and assistance from healthcare professionals they do not know.

“However, the bigger issue underlying all of this is that the law on assisted dying is simply not working. We know that an estimated 332 people with terminal illnesses end their life every year, and this is done without medical advice or support. Furthermore, in cases where someone is suspected of assisting, investigations only happen after the main witness has died.

“Despite the best efforts of successive DPPs to provide a more compassionate approach, the law is broken and ultimately it is Parliament’s job, not that of the DPP, to fix it. Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill is currently going through Parliament and this seeks to create a safeguarded law which would give dying people choice while also better protecting vulnerable people.”


Notes to editor:

About Dignity in Dying:

Dignity in Dying campaigns for greater choice, control and access to services at the end of life. It advocates providing terminally ill adults with the option of an assisted death, within strict legal safeguards, and for universal access to high quality end-of-life care. Dignity in Dying has over 25,000 supporters and receives its funding entirely from donations from the public.

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