People should not have 'traipse off to Switzerland to kill themselves', says former chief prosecutor

Sir Keir Starmer has called for prosecutions against those who help assist with suicide for compassionate reasons to be relaxed

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A former director of public prosecutions has called for the reform of assisted dying laws so that people wishing to end their lives do not have to “traipse off to Switzerland”.

Sir Keir Starmer, now a Labour MP for Holborn and St Pancras, said that a new law should be implemented to help the rising number of people travelling to Dignitas clinics in Zurich to end their lives.

Sir Keir, who has previously helped to create rules which relaxed prosecutions against those who helped assist with suicide for compassionate reasons, has said that these rules still need to be relaxed further.

He told The Times that Crown Prosecution Service guidelines “don’t deal with the problem of people wanting to end their lives in this country, medically assisted, rather than traipse off to Switzerland”.

A key problem cited by Sir Keir is that doctors are not allowed to help in assisted suicide meaning chronically ill people may have to depend upon friends or relatives to help them to die.

Sir Keir said that the present law overstated concerns that vulnerable people may be pressurised into taking their lives, saying that in the 80 or so cases he reviewed when DPP this was an issue in “almost none”.

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?”  

Since draft guidelines were introduced in 2009, the CPS has received files on 110 cases of assisted suicide. 70 of these cases were not taken forward by prosecutors and 25 were dropped by police. The others are still being considered.

Only one case in 2013 resulted in prosecution. Assisted suicide is punishable by up to 14 years in jail in England and Wales.

An analysis from the Dignity in Dying campaign group found that 166 Britons went to Dignitas to take their lives in the six years to last December.

Assisted suicide and euthanasia are illegal in all European countries apart from Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Sir Keir will outline the case for reform at a seminar on September 8, hosted by Dignity in Dying in Westminster.

Sir Keir’s comments come before Lord Falconer of Thoroton’s Assisted Suicide Bill returns to parliament on Spetember 11, after running out of time in the last parliament.