The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has proposed new guidance for cases of suicide pact or mercy killing. These kinds of cases are legally considered under homicide law which is different to current laws around assisting a suicide, with even harsher punishment.
The CPS wants to hear from the public on what factors they should take into account when considering whether or not it is in the public interest to prosecute someone if they survive a suicide pact or take part in a ‘mercy killing’.
The new draft guidance published by the CPS says that prosecution would be less likely if the deceased individual had reached a ‘voluntary, settled and informed decision’, and if the suspect was ‘motivated wholly by compassion’.
Dignity in Dying welcomes this new guidance, as the CPS begins to recognise the injustices caused by the current law. However we continue to argue that nothing but a thoroughly safeguarded assisted dying law will ensure that all dying people have access to the support to die in the manner of their choosing.
Respond to the consultation
Please support our response today by responding to the consultation yourself. If you have a personal experience of being asked by a loved one to help them die you could mention this, but only share what you would like the CPS to know.
You’ll find the response form at the bottom of the page on the CPS website below.
Suggested things to include
Below are the key elements we suggest to include in your response. Please feel free to include a combination of the below (in your own words if you can):
- Do you think that the categories of cases to which these additional factors apply are appropriate? (in essence this question is asking whether you agree that suicide pact and mercy killing cases should be treated differently to conventional murder and manslaughter cases)
- Tick yes
- Can you expand on your answer to question 1?
- I agree that deaths arising from a suicide pact or mercy killing motivated by compassion ought to be treated differently and with more compassion than a death caused by murder or manslaughter, especially given the absence of an assisted dying law in the UK.
- Dying people have their options unjustly limited by the current blanket ban on assisted dying.
- It is often not in the public interest to prosecute people who assist a dying loved one to end their life where they have been wholly motivated by compassion and are acting on the settled wish of that person, for example in the case of Mavis Eccleston (2019) who was found not guilty of the murder or manslaughter of her husband Denis who was dying of bowel cancer.
- Do you agree that the factors considered should be broadly consistent with those set out in the assisted suicide policy?
- Tick Yes
- Can you expand on your answer to question 3?
- Those most affected by the proposed guidance and assisted suicide policy share a common wish to control the timing and manner of their deaths. The family and friends of people who ask for indirect (assisted suicide) or direct (mercy killing) help to end their lives are facing very similar dilemmas, forced to choose between their conscience and the law – it is right that the policies dealing with both types of case are similar
- Are there any further factors of prosecution that should be included?
- Tick no
- What further factors in favour of prosecution should be included if you replied Yes to question 5?
- Leave blank
- Are there any further factors tending against prosecution that should be included
- Tick yes
- What further factors tending against prosecution should be included if you replied Yes to question 7?
- I believe that terminal illness should be added as a factor tending against prosecution due to the extreme limitations placed on dying people in England and Wales.
- Accessing an assisted death in Switzerland is only an option for a small number of people who can afford the £10,000+ to travel to Dignitas
- 17 Britons a day will die suffering despite excellent palliative care provision meaning that a small minority of people are forced to find alternative ways to control the end of their lives. This may require the support of a loved one.
- Dignity in Dying research shows that 300-650 dying people take their own life each year. For some people in the final stages of their illness, it would be impossible to do this without the involvement of a loved one.
- I don’t believe it is in the public interest to prosecute compassionate assistance in these instances.
- If you have personal experience of these issues you could share it in this answer, but please only include this if you are happy for the CPS to be aware of it.
- Please provide any other feedback you wish to share around how the revised guidance could be improved?
- I support the proposed new guidance, which will allow prosecutors to take both a common sense and compassionate approach to prosecution decisions in mercy killing and suicide pact cases.
- However I still believe that a strongly safeguarded assisted dying law would give dying people both greater choice and better protection from abuse and coercion at the end of life than this guidance and the current law can.
- Upfront safeguards would ensure that dying people who may be vulnerable or at risk can be protected from harm before they end their life. The proposed guidance would only help to ensure the correct people continue to be punished after the fact.
- >> RESPOND TO THE CONSULTATIONIf you have any questions about completing this consultation please email us at email@example.com.
- Crown Prosecution Service (CPS): decides which cases should go to court and what charges should be brought. It is independent of the Government and the police.
- Suicide pact: an agreement between two or more people to die by suicide together.
- Mercy killing: any death where someone directly ends someone else’s life in the belief that they are acting wholly out of compassion, and often at the request of the person who died.