With 34 Britons preparing to travel abroad to die, a new report states that families face a desperate dilemma as ‘out of step’ Suicide Act fails to protect the vulnerable and harms relatives.
Campaign group Dignity in Dying today warns that there are 34 Britons in the final stages of preparing for an assisted death abroad, in a new report A law out of step, published today.
The report shows that at least 115 Britons have travelled to a foreign country to have an assisted suicide since 2002 at an average of 2 a month. The figures are revealed as MS sufferer Debbie Purdy takes her case for clarification on the law on assisted suicide to the House of Lords. Ms Purdy wants to know whether or not her husband would be prosecuted if she decides to go abroad to die should her condition become unbearable – and he accompanies her.
Although nobody who has accompanied a loved one abroad to die has yet been prosecuted, several have been arrested and many more questioned. Currently, the 1961 Suicide Act states that anyone assisting a suicide is liable for up to 14 years imprisonment.
A law out of step: The 1961 Suicide Act and Britons travelling abroad to die argues that the current law:
– Is clearly out of step with current prosecuting policy which condones relatives accompanying loved ones overseas for an assisted death
– Fails to protect the vulnerable, relying upon what is legal in other countries
– Harms the relatives of those seeking assisted dying
– Denies people choice and is unclear
– Forces people to end their lives earlier than they would want to
Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said:
“Parliament urgently needs to acknowledge the fact that people are travelling overseas to die – and this trend show no sign of stopping. It’s time the 1961 Suicide Act was brought up to date to reflect what’s really going on in UK courts. Safeguards must be put in place to protect vulnerable people whilst ensuring that loved ones of terminally ill, mentally competent people, like Debbie Purdy, who choose this option, do not face prosecution.”
The report also raises concerns that people who are not terminally ill, and possibly not mentally competent, are being offered assistance to end their lives overseas. It cites evidence that 19% of Britons known to have ended their life in Switzerland did not have a terminal illness.
A law out of step calls for:
– Parliament to revise the 1961 Suicide Act. The law should recognise that helping a terminally ill, mentally competent loved one to be assisted to die in a place where it is legal is different to other forms of assistance to commit suicide.
– The law to recognise that different actions should be dealt with differently by statute, rather than the current ‘fudge’ of the DPP deciding post facto whether prosecution is in the public interest.
– The law to recognise the fact that people are travelling overseas to die now. It should introduce safeguards to protect vulnerable people whilst ensuring that loved ones of terminally ill, mentally competent people who choose this option do not face prosecution.
Sarah Wootton said:
“Debbie Purdy’s case alone has seen huge public support for clarification of the law and protection of family members acting out of compassion. People are losing faith in Parliament and its ability to reflect the will of the electorate. Given that poll after poll has shown that 80% of the public support a change in the law, it’s time the 1961 Suicide Act was brought into line with current public opinion and current prosecuting policy.”
A law out of step: The 1961 Suicide Act and Britons travelling abroad to die includes evidence that:
– At least 115 British people have been assisted to die overseas
– Dignitas, the Swiss suicide clinic, has at least 786 members in the UK, many of whom are actively seeking to end their lives there.
Note to Editors:
Debbie will be available for interview on Monday 1st June as well as prior to her hearing between 9.15 and 9.45 on College Green, Westminster (opposite Sovereign’s Entrance, House of Lords)
For more information or to arrange interviews with Dignity in Dying Chief Executive Sarah Wootton, please contact Jo Cartwright, Campaigns and Press Officer on 020 7479 7739/ 07725433025. firstname.lastname@example.org
Please find A law out of step attached.
The Appeal against the decision of the Appeal Court will take place on Tuesday 2nd and Wednesday 3rd June 2009 at the House of Lords, London.
The current law:
– Assisting a suicide is a crime punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment in England and Wales
– Section 2 (1) of the 1961 Suicide Act states: A person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another, or an attempt by another to commit suicide, shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years
– Section 2 (4) of the 1961 Suicide Act states: No proceedings shall be instituted for an offence under this section except by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions
– To date no one who has accompanied a loved one to Dignitas has been prosecuted. However, people have been questioned by the Police and threatened with prosecution.
– Debbie’s case has been through the High Court and the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal judgment can be found here: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2009/92.html.
– Debbie Purdy is 46 years of age
– She lives in Bradford, West Yorkshire, with her husband Omar Puente
– Debbie was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) on 21 March 1995, aged 31
Dignity in Dying:
– Dignity in Dying is the leading organisation in the UK that advocates assisted dying for terminally ill patients.
– Dignity in Dying has over 100,000 supporters and receives its funding entirely from donations from the public.
– Opinion polls consistently show that at least 80% of the UK population support a change in the law on assisted dying.
– Dignity in Dying supports Debbie Purdy’s case for the DPP to clarify his prosecuting policy around relatives who accompany loved ones overseas to have an assisted death in countries where it is a legal practice, or help them in any way. The least Debbie – and others like her – deserve is to know where they and their families stand within the law
– Dignity in Dying believes that denying Debbie adequate choice over the end of her life is also denying her dignity
– Dignity in Dying strongly believes that we need an assisted dying law in the UK, so that people like Debbie would not have to contemplate having to travel overseas to have an assisted death. Dignity in Dying campaigns within the current law to introduce medically assisted dying for terminally ill adults
– A UK law would mean that Debbie – and others like her – would not be forced to contemplate dying before they are ready. An assisted dying law in the UK would lengthen people’s lives, as they would not have to contemplate committing violent suicides, mercy killings or travelling abroad to die
– There is no connection between Dignitas and Dignity and Dying
– Dignitas opened in 1998 and the clinic has so far helped at least 883 people to end their lives – over 115 of these were from the UK
– Dignitas has upward of 786 members in the UK