Position Statement on Assisted Suicide

What it is:

The Suicide Act of 1961 sets out the UK’s legal position on cases of assisted suicide. It states that those found guilty of assisting suicide will face a jail sentence of up to 14 years. You may find that the discussion around assisted suicide also uses terms such as ‘assisted death’, the ‘end of life debate’ or even ‘mercy killings’.

In Britain there have been many high profile cases in recent years where people have travelled abroad to seek assisted death. The case of Debbie Purdy, who has multiple sclerosis, has highlighted the key issue of what will happen if family members or loved ones accompany that person seeking assisted suicide.

A long legal fight to get the Director of Prosecutions to make it clear how the law would be applied in this area has resulted in a policy on assisted suicide being introduced in the UK. This new policy does not change the law, but it does now allow for a change in focus by allowing for a consideration of a person’s motivation for becoming involved in cases of assisted suicide.

A group of disabled people have come together to challenge the viewpoint that someone who is disabled or faces impairment related difficulties has such a terrible quality of life that they are better off dead. A series of reports and public statements have been created and are available through Baroness Campbell’s website or by visiting the Not Dead Yet campaign website.

How it affects DPOs and disabled people:

This is an important debate. The difficulties are broad reaching, from the rights of parents to bring a disabled child to full term and birth, to having the right to appropriate and life saving medical or hospital treatment when it is needed for both children and adults.

It clearly falls into the human rights agenda and needs to be brought out into the open with that understanding. Otherwise disabled people are going to be seen as less entitled to full independent living with all the aspirations that go with it.

What we think about it:

The debate and controversy around assisted suicide will never go away. People will continue to be deeply divided and have very different opinions about the practice.

At UKDPC we are extremely concerned about disabled people being forced to end their lives by either family or the society around them. We want to fight against the persistent attitudes that disabled people are a burden on their families or on the health services.

We condemn the continuing stigma and stereotyping around disability. We urge the government to start addressing the lack of adequate support, equality and justice that is leading to so many disabled people feeling that they have no choice but to end their lives.

In the meantime, we feel that is it both extremely important for people to be fully informed about the law, the legal consequences, and the latest developments around this issue.

Latest Update:

In accordance with the new Crown Prosecution guidance, the person seeking an assisted death must have the mental capacity to make such a decision, and that that decision is also made on a ‘voluntary, clear, settled and informed’ basis.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has issued fresh guidance on the policy of assisted suicide in England and Wales. Though the law has not changed and people found guilty of assisting suicide will face a jail term of up to 14 years, this new information aims to set out clear guidance for the Crown Prosecution Service to follow in assisted suicide cases.

Each case will be considered on its own merits, the new policy has also removed references to an individual’s disability or terminal illness, in order to tackle further discrimination. Finally, a key issue that will be assessed when dealing with such cases is the motivation of person suspected of assisting suicide. Motivation basically means the reasons for a person being involved in an assisted suicide. For example, it could be someone acting out of compassion or on the other hand, acting for financial gain.

This new guidance sets factors in favour and against prosecution. To read what these are, and to read the press release in full, click on the link provided at the bottom of this page.

To read more about the new CPS Guidance, as well as the Not Dead Yet Campaign, please click on the following links.