Thursday 30 July 2009

Law Lords rule in favour of assisted suicide

This afternoon the House of Lords judicial committee (also known as the Law Lords), Britain's highest court, ruled in favour of Debbie Purdy's assisted suicide legal challenge. In brief, the court said that the authorities should say more precisely in what circumstances they will or will not prosecute someone who assists another person's suicide. The judges also suggested what the policy should contain. The judges made a distinction between people in one broad category of circumstances - terminally ill, chronically sick, bereaved, depressed, distressed, mentally competent, consenting - and those in the opposite circumstances. They also made a distinction between the motives (either supposedly altruistic or ulterior) of those assisting others to commit suicide. SPUC's full press release on the judgment is available here.

In SPUC's view the judgment is dangerous. It sacrifices the value of human life in the name of choice; it fails to balance sympathy for the relatives of a suicidal person with the need to affirm the worth of people with disability; and it discriminates against certain categories of vulnerable people.

One of the judges, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, made his support for allowing assisted suicide in some circumstances quite clear:
"What to my mind is needed is a custom-built policy statement indicating the various factors for and against prosecution, many but not all of which are touched on in the James case, factors designed to distinguish between those situations in which, however tempted to assist, the prospective aider and abettor should refrain from doing so, and those situations in which he or she may fairly hope to be, if not commended, at the very least forgiven, rather than condemned, for giving assistance."
In response to the judgment, SPUC will be making representations to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) about his prosecuting policy. Also, SPUC will be lending support to conscientious doctors and nurses to oppose assisted suicide.

Assisting suicide is dangerous, unethical, and unnecessary. It's dangerous because it sends out a signal to disabled people that they have less value than others. It's unethical because it is always wrong intentionally to kill an innocent human being. And it's unnecessary because medical treatment, good palliative care and/or personal support can overcome suicidal tendencies.

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