Would Debbie Purdey's husband escape sanction over assisted suicide?

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The Independent Online

Q. Why has the Director of Public Prosecutions published new guidance on assisted suicide?

A. The House of Lords ruled in July that the Crown Prosecution Service must set out the specific factors when its lawyers exercise their discretion in charging someone for assisting someone to take their own life.

Q. Do the new guidelines mean that it is no longer an offence to help someone commit suicide?

A. Most definitely not. It will remain an offence to aid or abet in the suicide of another until the law is changed.

Q. So what's all the fuss about?

A. Before the DPP published yesterday's guidance, there was nothing written down that specifically directed how the Crown Prosecution Service should treat these cases. Now there is a set of published criteria which will help family and friends of those who wish to commit suicide to know whether their assistance will result in a prosecution.

Q. Who is more likely to escape prosecution?

A. Close family who have nothing to gain by arranging for a terminally ill relative to travel to a foreign euthanasia clinic are unlikely to face charges.

Q. What if the person committing suicide is not suffering from a terminal illness?

A. The guidance makes it clear that, providing other conditions are met, someone who helps a severely disabled person commit suicide may be protected from prosecution. This also applies to someone suffering from a "severe physical degenerative condition" from which they will not recover.

Q. What about Debbie Purdy's husband, Omar Puente?

A. Each case will depend on its own circumstances, but there was no hiding both Debbie Purdy's and Mr Puente's joy yesterday. He can feel more reassured about the consequences of his future actions.

Q. Is the guidance the first step to a change in the law on assisted suicide?

A. It is likely the issue will come before Parliament again in the near future. While surveys of public opinion can show mixed results depending on who is asking the question and how it is asked, there is an appetite for more debate.

Robert Verkaik

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