29th November 2006
Dignity in Dying comment on the Law Commission review of the law of murder and recommendations on ‘mercy killing’
Review welcomed but the problem will notbe solved until there is an assisted dying law
The Law Commission today published its review of the law of murder, and recommended a separate review looking solely at the issue mercy killing.
Commenting on the Law Commission’s recommendation that there should be a specific review of ‘mercy killing’ Deborah Annetts, Dignity in Dying Chief Executive, said:
“For years we have been saying that the criminal law as it applies to mercy killing is a mess. The Law Commission has recognised that the wishes of the person who has been helped to die are not currently relevant when the courts consider a charge of mercy killing. In addition the person who has helped the loved one to die can only escape a long prison sentence if he can show that he was suffering from diminished responsibility. The law is built on hypocrisy and fails to protect the vulnerable.
“We are pleased that the Law Commission has called for a separate review of mercy killing and hope that the Government takes this up urgently. We know that 50 per cent of people convicted of mercy killing, whatever their sentence go on to kill themselves. How many more people must suffer as a result of this inhumane law? The Government has a responsibility to both the victim and the perpetrator in mercy killing cases, to take action now.
“However, whatever the outcome of any review, mercy killings will continue until there is a proper assisted dying law in place, along the lines of the private members bill which Lord Joffe introduced earlier this year. It is time for the Government to start listening to the public. 82% of people want to see the law changed so that someone who is terminally ill and competent can ask for medical help to die. The judges know the law does not work. Doctors know that the law does not work. The Law Commission has recognised that the law does not work and the public know that the law does not work. The Government must now take action.”
Baroness Jay, a member of the House of Lords Select Committee on the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill said:
“I welcome the Law Commission’s recommendation of a review of mercy killing and urge the Government to take this forward. Recent criminal cases have shown that the law as it stands doesn’t deal well with those who in desperation may have helped a loved one to die. A review of mercy killing would be an excellent opportunity to mount a thorough investigation of assisted dying in Britain, and to build on the groundwork done by the House of Lords Select Committee in 2005.”
Home Office figures for 1995/6 to 2004/05 show that of 43 cases, 21 ‘mercy killers’ committed suicide.