Wednesday 28 March 2012

Commons welcome of DPP assisted suicide policy undermines protection for vulnerable

Keir Starmer, the current DPP
The House of Commons’ welcome of the Director of Public Prosecutions' (DPP) policy on prosecuting assisted suicide undermines society’s protection of the most vulnerable.

Last night the House of Commons passed unopposed a motion to “welcome” the DPP’s guidance, published in February 2010, as well as to encourage advances in palliative care. SPUC Pro-Life has warned that the DPP’s guidance effectively decriminalises assisted suicide by removing any realistic chance of prosecutions for assisting suicide. The guidance was published following the successful court challenge by euthanasia supporter Debbie Purdy. SPUC Pro-Life was an official intervener before the courts in the Purdy case.

Paul Tully, SPUC Pro-Life’s general secretary, told the media:
“Listening to the debate, it was clear that MPs opposed to assisted suicide had the moral high ground. The dangers for vulnerable people were well described by new MPs like Paul Maynard and Fiona Bruce; and long-standing members like Frank Field and Dr John Pugh warned of the serious consequences to which assisted suicide leads. It belies the substance of the debate that the motion was allowed to pass without going to a division. The DPP's prosecuting policy has emptied the Suicide Act, which sets out the crime of assisting suicide, of its meaning and much of its force. The DPP's policy should be rescinded or revised to ensure the the right to life for all."
Highlights from the debate included:
  • Ian Paisley Jr MP skewered Richard Ottaway MP’s attempt to manipulate the parameters of the debate.
  • Jacob Rees-Mogg MP asked: How can prosecutors be sure that someone assisting suicide is motivated by compassion, not other factors?
  • David Winnick MP claimed wrongly that multiple sclerosis (MS) patient Debbie Purdy has terminal illness. MS is not a terminal illness.
  • Disabled MP Paul Maynard said assisted suicide sends message that some lives (e.g. disabled) are not worth living. Legal assisted suicide for one person would diminish the value of the life of every person, he said. He also said that the true definition of compassion is being lost: it is not feeling sorry for someone but ‘fellow suffering’.
  • Dr John Pugh MP and David Burrowes MP argued that enshrining the DPP’s guidelines in statute would fetter the DPP, denying the discretion given to him by other statutes.
  • Fiona Bruce MP said that UK is a world-leader in hospice care. It prioritises care, not ending life. A palliative care specialist told Mrs Bruce that doctors are concerned that legal assisted suicide would put them in a very difficult position regarding their patients.
  • Fiona Bruce MP also said that disabled peer Baroness Campbell says assisted suicide won't stop with the terminally-ill but will threaten the disabled.
  • Solicitor-general Edward Garnier QC opposed the motion to put the DPP’s guidance on a statutory footing.
  • Fiona Bruce MP said that improving palliative care services is important, not least as it reduces requests for assisted suicide.
  • Anti-life MP Emily Thornberry claimed wrongly that Diane Pretty, the late motor neurone disease (MND) patient, suffocated to death. In fact she died peacefully. (SPUC led a group of interveners in the Pretty case, which was defeated at every stage.)
  • Glenda Jackson MP said that Lord Falconer's Commission on Assisted Dying was biased and funded by the assisted suicide lobby.
  • Dr John Pugh MP said that euthanasia is a logical conclusion of assisted suicide.
  • Naomi Long MP said that it is difficult to assess if a patient is terminally-ill. The proposed terminal illness 'safeguard' is therefore dubious.
  • Ian Paisley Jnr MP argued that the House of Commons would be foolish to put in place a law deciding when someone loses their life. He also said that assisted suicide would open a Dutch-like floodgate to euthanasia.
  • Frank Field MP said that euthanasia was the unspoken issue in today’s debate. He added that some relatives have vested interests in patient's death.
  • Mark Pawsey MP said that his family experience tells him that legalising assisted suicide would be wrong. It would be a slippery slope for our nation.
  • Edward Leigh MP said that we must never let old people feel they are burdens. Life must come first and we must proclaim life.
  • Jim Shannon MP called on Parliament to uphold the Hippocratic Oath's "First do no harm" principle and the Oath’s ban on doctor-assisted suicide.
  • Robert Halfon MP said that legalising assisted suicide is dangerous, and called on MPs to remember that ‘life unworthy of life’ was the basis of the Nazi euthanasia programme.
  • John Glen MP argued that a blanket law banning assisted suicide is the only way to protect vulnerable people.
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