In both California and the UK, politicians, press, and people are slow at coming to terms with the change in public opinion. This is a question of ultimate autonomy over ones own life, which has to end some time.. NHS reality supports Sir Keir Starmer whose is reported in The Times, and is printed beneath that of Frances Gibb in The Times.
George F. Will writes from San Diego in the Washington Post 28th August 2015: Affirming a right to die with dignity – and describes the case of mother
Brittany Maynard was soon to die. The question was whether she could do so on her own terms, as a last act of autonomy. Dr. Lynette Cederquist, who regrets that Maynard had to move to Oregon in order to do so, is working with others to change California law to allow physician assistance in dying…..
The law must be changed so that people can be helped to take their own lives without having to “traipse off to Switzerland”, a former director of public prosecutions has said.
Sir Keir Starmer was responsible for drawing up guidelines that spelt out how people who acted with compassion might avoid prosecution for assisting a suicide.
He is now convinced that it is time for a new law to save dozens of Britons every year from making their way to the Zurich clinics of Dignitas to end their lives.
Sir Keir, who became Labour MP for Holborn and St Pancras this year, has always declined to give his view of the law, but he has decided to go public before the Assisted Dying Bill returns to parliament next month.
“The law needs to be changed,” he told The Times. “The important thing is to have safeguards.”
Crown Prosecution Service guidelines “simply don’t deal with the problem of people wanting to end their lives in this country, medically assisted, rather than traipse off to Switzerland”, he said. “The present guidelines have in-built limitations, which mean that there can be injustice in a number of cases.”
One of the key problems was that doctors were not allowed to help, which meant that chronically ill people might have to rely upon friends or relatives to help them to die.
Since he issued draft guidelines in 2009, the CPS has received files on assisted suicides in 110 cases — 70 were not proceeded with by prosecutors and 25 were withdrawn by police. The others are still being considered or have been referred for prosecution. Only one, in 2013, was prosecuted. Assisted suicide is punishable by up to 14 years in jail.
“In my time as DPP, there was only one prosecution — of someone who provided petrol and a lighter to a vulnerable man said to have suicidal intent, who subsequently suffered severe burns as a result,” Sir Keir said.
An analysis from the Dignity in Dying campaign group shows that 166 Britons went to Dignitas to take their lives in the six years to last December. Assisted suicide and euthanasia are illegal in every country in Europe apart from Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
Sir Keir believes that the law does not “strike the right balance” between allowing those with a “voluntary, clear, settled and informed wish to die to be assisted by someone acting out of compassion” and protecting those who are vulnerable to being pressurised to take their lives.
Concerns over the vulnerable are overstated, he believes. “In almost none of the 80 or so cases I reviewed when DPP was this an issue.” Sir Keir asked: “Do we keep something there to protect the vulnerable and ignore the plight of those actively committing suicide or being assisted to attempt suicide, or move to a different position where there are strong safeguards?”
His intervention comes amid concern that the law is struggling to cope with cases where people want to die but cannot physically take their own lives. This month Bob Cole, 68, who was terminally ill, said that he would take his life at Dignitas. He fulfilled his wish the same day, 18 months after watching his wife, Ann Hall, do the same.
Lorraine Grant and David Brown, who were together for 40 years, also killed themselves this month in a five-star hotel after making a suicide pact. Ms Grant, 57, who had terminal bladder cancer, had been given six months to live. Her partner, who was 63, said that he could not face life without her.
Also this month, a healthy woman, Gill Pharaoh, ended her life at a clinic in Basel, after her partner said that she had been planning her exit for years.
Sir Keir will outline the case for reform at a Westminster seminar on September 8, hosted by Dignity in Dying, with the Society of Labour Lawyers and Society of Conservative Lawyers. Lord Falconer of Thoroton’s Assisted Suicide Bill ran out of time in the last parliament but will return for a second reading on September 11.
An amendment to introduce judicial oversight of any decision to help a person to die attracted wide support. The amendment would require a High Court judge to confirm that a terminally ill patient, with less than six months to live, had reached “a voluntary, clear, settled and informed” decision to control the time and manner of their death.
Lord Falconer said: “I welcome Sir Keir’s intervention. He is the author of the guidelines and understands best how they work.
“His voice saying there is a need for change and that they don’t work is significant further support for the bill. It is right now that the Commons allows the bill to have a second reading so that the issue can be properly considered by parliament.”
A Populus poll of 5,000 people this year, the largest conducted on assisted dying, indicated that 82 per cent of the public supported Lord Falconer’s bill. The same poll also found that 44 per cent of people would break the present law and help a loved one to die.
The final guidelines, published by Sir Keir in 2010, indicate factors where those acting “wholly out of compassion” are likely to avoid prosecution for helping people to end their lives. They also list circumstances that would make prosecution more likely.