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Could the debate on the DPP’s Policy change the law?

In providing an answer, it is important to make the distinction between what the debate will be about and what it won’t be about.

The Policy, published in 2010, didn’t change the law and didn’t legalise assistance to die. Rather it has formalised the distinction between compassionate assistance and malicious assistance in cases of assisted suicide – it provides clarity where previously there was none. The Policy was produced as a result of the case brought by Debbie Purdy who wanted to know whether her partner would face prosecution if he accompanied her to Dignitas to die. The Law Lords (now the Supreme Court) concluded that legal clarity was a matter of Human Rights and thus instructed the DPP to produce a prosecuting policy to provide such clarity.

MPs will be discussing this existing Policy – assessing its application since 2010 – not the legalisation of assistance to die. Assisting in suicide remains a serious crime and the debate, regardless of outcome, won’t change that. What it will allow is an opportunity for MPs to make an assessment on how the current law is being applied, as laid out in the DPP Policy, and also offers a chance to (hopefully) arrive at a consensus as a result.

So the debate on the DPP’s Policy won’t change the law but that shouldn’t be allowed to detract from the importance of a frank discussion on the issue. What it will do, is allow a platform, the first in a long while, for well-informed and productive consideration of the law as it stands.

See also:

DPP Debate Set for 27 March – James Harris, 24th February 2012