Gordon Brown today dismissed calls for legalising assisted suicide by warning that frail and vulnerable people would be put at risk of dying before they were ready.
He said that there was too much risk that such people would be swayed by pressure placed on them by other people to end their lives. A leading right-to-die campaigner, however, immediately criticised Mr Brown for showing "a lack of respect" and suggested he had allowed his religious views precedence over the demands of the electorate.
The Prime Minister maintains in a newspaper article published today that to change the law on assisted suicide would erode trust in carers if they were given the right to end life.
His comments, made in the DailyTelegraph, come shortly before Thursday's expected publication by Keir Starmer, the Director of Publish Prosecutions, of new guidance on when people involved in assisted suicide attempts should be prosecuted. Mr Starmer's review was prompted by a House of Lords judgment in the case of Debbie Purdy, a multiple sclerosis sufferer who wanted to know if her husband would be prosecuted for helping her end her life at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.
The Prime Minister is known to oppose assisted suicide, but his comments today are the most public and forthright statements he has yet made on the issue. He wrote: "For let us be clear: death as an option and an entitlement, via whatever bureaucratic processes a change in the law might devise, would fundamentally change the way we think about mortality.
"The risk of pressures – however subtle – on the frail and the vulnerable, who may feel their existences burdensome to others, cannot ever be entirely excluded. And the inevitable erosion of trust in the caring professions – if they were in a position to end life – would be to lose something very precious.
"I know in my heart that there is such a thing as a good death. And I believe it is our duty as a society to provide the skilled and loving care that makes it possible; and to use the laws we have well, rather than rush to change them."
Ms Purdy accused the Prime Minister of trying to stop people who might be considering ending their lives from talking openly about their situation.
She said: "To have a Prime Minister who says actually I don't care if 95 per cent of the population think we should find a law and discuss whether it's possible or not... I think it shows a lack of respect for the British people. If the Dutch and the Americans can handle a law, why doesn't he think the British people are capable of the same thing?
"In Oregon and in Holland the relationship between doctors and patients is actually really strong, partly because people know they are not going to be abandoned at the most difficult time in their illness – that's what happens in the UK."Reuse content