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  • "Assisted suicide"

    Clashes over an attempt to allow the terminally ill to end their lives flared today as a bill to legalise assisted dying began its second reading in the House of Lords.

    Crossbencher Lord Joffe told peers that patients should not be forced to endure unbearable pain "for the good of society as a whole" as he opened the debate on his right-to-die legislation.

    But the former human rights lawyer faces a long day of hostility both outside and inside the chamber - including from the archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who is due to speak in the marathon debate expected in the Lords today.

    Opponents say the bill does not include safeguards to protect people suffering from depression, and could put pressure on the terminally ill to end their lives prematurely. Supporters of the bill say that an amendment being tabled today by the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Carlile to delay the measures for six months is in effect a wreaking amendment.

    Disabled opponents gathered in a nearby room to launch the Not Dead Yet campaign in protest at the proposals, while supporters of the Catholic church-backed Care Not Killing organisation began a day of protests.

    The group, which represents more than 30 charities and healthcare groups, warned that the Joffe bill would put the old and sick under intolerable pressure to end their lives, not least because of severe pressures on health and long-term care services.

    It will later hand in a petition at 10 Downing Street signed by more than 100,000 people demanding an end to attempts to change the law.

    Despite the vocal protests, a new poll has found three-quarters of people in favour of the controversial right-to-die bill.

    The government refused to say at this stage whether it would support the bill in the commons, citing a position of "neutrality" over the issue. A Department of Health spokeswoman said it would "wait and see" what happens in the Lords first......


  • #2

    July 25, 2009 -- The Royal College of Nursing is to meet Scottish MP Margo MacDonald to discuss proposals on legalising assisted suicide after the organisation dropped its five-year opposition to the policy. MacDonald, who has Parkinson's disease, is planning to introduce a bill to legalise assisted suicide in Scotland in the autumn. She said discussions with the nurses' organisation would be extremely useful. "The RCN recognises that there is a public mood to deal with choices at the end of life," she told the BBC. "They recognise that their members will be asked by patients about it because very often the relationship between the nurse and the patient is perhaps the closest one."

    The Royal College of Nursing has opposed assisted suicide since 2004, but adopted a neutral stance yesterday after a recent consultation in which almost half (49%) of its members said they supported the policy, while two out of five (40%) said they were against it. It is to issue detailed guidance to nurses. Dr Peter Carter, RCN chief executive, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that the organisation recognised that assisted suicide was a complicated issue. He said the shift to the neutral stance would allow nurses to talk to patients about it if they were questioned, but added: "That must not be confused with us being proponents of assisted suicide."

    He called for authorities to clarify the law on assisted suicide. Currently, anyone who assists someone to take their life faces up to 14 years in prison, although no one has yet been prosecuted. Earlier this year the appeal court rejected a legal challenge by Debbie Purdy, a multiple sclerosis patient, who wanted a guarantee that her husband would not be prosecuted for helping her to travel to Switzerland to take her life. The House of Lords is expected to rule on her case next week.

    The move comes as a poll found that 74% of people want doctors to be allowed to help terminally ill people end their lives. The survey in today's Times found that six out of 10 people said they wanted friends and relatives to be able to help their dying loved ones to take their own lives, without fear of prosecution. The poll also found that only 13% supported a blanket right to assisted suicide regardless of the individual's health, while 85% said it should be legal only "in specific circumstances".

    In July doctors at the British Medical Association stuck by their opposition to assisted suicide, having briefly adopted a neutral stance several years ago. The Christian Nurses and Midwives organisation said today it regretted the RCN's policy shift. Secretary Steve Fouch said it sent out the wrong signals "at a time when there is growing anxiety about how we will care for the elderly and severely disabled in the future".

    The latest moves follow high-profile cases involving Britons using the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland. On July 10 renowned conductor Sir Edward Downes and his wife Lady Joan died together in the Zurich clinic which has helped more than 115 people from the UK to commit suicide since it was founded in 1998.


    • #3

      July 26, 2009 -- The organisation representing Christian nurses has attacked the Royal College of Nursing's decision to drop its five-year opposition to allowing assisted suicide. Christian Nurses and Midwives said the RCN's policy shift would send "the wrong signals to the vulnerable".

      "While we welcome the consultation process, by the RCN's own admission, only half its membership were reached, of those less than 1% responded, and less than half of those expressed a desire to shift policy either in favour or towards neutrality," said Steve Fouch, CNM secretary. He said that the CNM did not believe that the profession should step back from actively opposing changes to the law.

      A Populus poll yesterday showed that six out of 10 people questioned wanted friends and relatives to be able to help people who were dying to kill themselves, without fear of prosecution. In July, doctors maintained their opposition to assisted suicide following several cases involving the Swiss Dignitas clinic. Earlier this month, conductor Sir Edward Downes and his terminally ill wife, Lady Joan, decided to die together in Zurich.


      • #4

        July 27, 2009 -- Doctors should not talk about assisted suicide with patients even to tell them about travelling to a country where it is legal. The warning comes from a doctors defence organisation in the wake of the move by the Royal College of Nursing to drop its opposition to assisted suicide. The Medical Defence Union, which represents half of UK doctors, reminded members that assisting a suicide is illegal in England and Wales and that they should not give advice to patients to help them travel abroad to take their own lives. Ian Barker, MDU solicitor, said: “As a result of the RCN stating in news reports that it wishes to ‘engage in a debate’ with its nurse members about assisted suicide and the recent media interest in this issue, our members may be approached by patients for advice about ending their life with the help of an assisted suicide group abroad. We are reminding them that they could face a criminal investigation if alleged to have assisted with the act - even if that assistance was in the form of advice to the patient. Even if criminal proceedings do not follow, the GMC may still decide to investigate the doctor’s fitness to practise. The best thing a member can do if they are asked for help in these circumstances is to phone us for specific advice and not to engage in a discussion with the patient.” In 2008, the Director of Public Prosecutions decided that it would not be in the public interest to prosecute the parents of Daniel James after he travelled to Dignitas, the Swiss assisted suicide clinic, to commit suicide. The MDU points out however that, in its view, this decision was case specific and does not change the legal position for doctors caring for a patient.


        • #5

          July 28, 2009 -- Michael Irwin, a doctor who helped a man with cancer to kill himself at the Dignitas clinic, has asked police to arrest him and make him into a martyr. The former UN medical director and head of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society said he wanted to highlight the fact that people who help loved ones commit suicide at the Swiss clinic face the threat of 14 years in prison. Dr Irwin, 77, is to be interviewed by police, and plans to hand over a diary and chequebook counterfoil for £1,500 proving that he committed a criminal offence. He said that the money was used to fund the death in February 2007 of Raymond Cutkelvin, a 58-year-old businessman from London who had incurable pancreatic cancer. "It's so wrong that people have to travel abroad to die when they could die here at home with dignity," Dr Irwin said. "I say to the police 'arrest me' ... I've done this before and I would do it again if someone is terminally ill." Last year Surrey Police decided not to charge Dr Irwin after he admitted helping May Murphy, who suffered from multiple system atrophy, kill herself at Dignitas. The doctor has said that over the next six months he also intends to help another terminally ill man in his eighties end his life at the clinic. Dr Irwin's latest attempt to be prosecuted will increase pressure on the Government to clarify what should happen to people who assist a suicide. While such assistance is against the law and could be punished with a jail sentence of up to 14 years, no one has ever been prosecuted for giving it. At least 115 Britons have travelled to Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal, to die at Dignitas. The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, QC, last year explained that he would not prosecute the parents of Daniel James, a rugby player who ended his life after becoming paralysed. However, Debbie Purdy, an MS sufferer from Bradford who wants the option of an assisted death, lost a challenge in the Court of Appeal in February to make him provide more precise guidance on when people would and would not be prosecuted. On Thursday the House of Lords will give its verdict on a further appeal by Mrs Purdy for clarification on whether her husband could be jailed if he helps her commit suicide. Mr Cutkelvin's partner of 28 years, Alan Rees, was arrested last week on suspicion of aiding his suicide. He was bailed until September pending further enquiries.


          • #6

            July 29, 2009 -- A groundbreaking change in the law on assisted suicides could become inevitable tomorrow when the UK's highest court delivers its judgment in the case of Debbie Purdy, whose long legal fight has put her at the centre of the controversy. Purdy, who has multiple sclerosis, claims that uncertainty as to whether her husband – the Cuban violinist Omar Puente – would face prosecution for assisting her suicide abroad breaches her human rights. She will learn tomorrow whether the law lords agree with her and demand a clarification of the law. Experts said they think she has a strong chance of success, despite two previous court rulings that went against her, and said the case could become a turning point in the increasingly heated debate over assisted suicide, with profound implications for the prosecuting authorities, the police and parliament. In some recent cases, the police have gathered evidence of potentially criminal assistance by relatives, but prosecutors have chosen not to pursue the cases.

            "If Debbie Purdy wins, the law lords will be saying that you can't have a crime which is enforced only on the whim of the director of public prosecutions," said Lord Falconer, a former lord chancellor who supported an amendment to the law on assisted suicide. "And once he has set out clear principles that there would be no prosecutions for compassionate assistance, then the law has effectively been changed." Other supporters of a change in the law on assisted suicide said that a victory for Purdy would lead to more far-reaching changes that could force parliament to introduce new legislation. "If Purdy is successful I think parliament would have to act," said Sarah Wooton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, which has supported her case. "The DPP would have to publish a prosecuting policy with criteria for and against prosecution. What this would really do is distinguish between compassionate assistance and malicious encouragement, rather than this blanket 'everything is illegal' approach. Surely parliament would need to react to that."

            Opponents of a change in the law agreed that the decision, the last to be decided by the law lords before they become justices of the new supreme court in October, could have radical consequences. "If the House of Lords were to hold in her favour, then it would dramatically change the basis on which the public prosecution service operates," said Lord Carlile, one of a majority of peers who recently opposed changes to the law on assisted suicide. He said tomorrow's decision could lead to an unworkable situation for prosecutors. "If this is applicable to assisted dying, why is it not applicable to assisted fraud, self-defence, provocation and many other situations in which people might wish to contact the prosecutorial authorities and find out whether what they do is a crime or not? It would completely change the relationship between the prosecution service and the public and would actually make the service in my view very difficult to run."

            The judgment comes after months of public debate about assisted suicide, with increasing numbers of British people travelling to Switzerland to use the facilities of the Swiss charity Dignitas. On Tuesday it emerged that a GP who helped patients to end their lives at Dignitas was being questioned by the police. Dr Michael Irwin, from Surrey, said that he expected to be arrested and wanted to become a "martyr'' to highlight the plight of relatives facing jail for assisting the deaths of loved ones. Earlier this month the double suicide of renowned British conductor Sir Edward Downes, 85, and his wife Joan, 74, also fuelled calls for parliament to change the law. The death of the couple, who were described as having deteriorating health when they ended their lives at Dignitas, is still the subject of a police investigation. But despite investigating scores of cases where friends and relatives have travelled to Switzerland to assist suicides, there has not been a single prosecution for the offence – which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years' imprisonment.

            "There are likely to be many similar cases in future, not least from among the 725 British members of the Swiss charity Dignitas," Lord Pannick QC, the barrister representing Purdy, told the law lords during the hearing last month. "It is very unsatisfactory from the point of view of consistency and avoiding arbitrariness to have these decisions taken … without guidance in the form of a policy." Last week the Royal College of Nursing, which previously opposed assisted dying, moved to a neutral position, prompting speculation that opinion in the medical profession is changing. Although the British Medical Association continues to oppose a change in the law, a recent motion at its annual conference was defeated by only a narrow margin, with 44% of members supporting a change. "There is strong support for a change in the law," Falconer said. "Most people would think compassionate assisters should not be prosecuted for taking their loved ones to Switzerland." "I am hopeful about tomorrow," said Wooton. "The previous courts were personally sympathetic but rule-bound, but the law lords' approach seemed indicative of a different state of mind."


            • #7

              July 29, 2009 -- It is “dangerous” for the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) to adopt a neutral stance on assisted suicide, says a leading Peer. Baroness Audrey Emerton, who is a fellow of the RCN questioned its recent claim to neutrality in light of news that it plans to engage in talks with MSP Margo MacDonald, who is behind the push to legalise assisted suicide in Scotland. She also points out that the policy change from opposed to neutral was based on consultation responses from just 0.3 per cent of the membership. And of those, 40 per cent were opposed to the idea. “To base a serious shift in the college’s stance on the opinions of 0.3 per cent of the membership is nothing short of irresponsible”, the Baroness said.

              Lady Emerton expressed outrage at the suggestion by the RCN’s general secretary that a neutral stance would enable nurses “to engage in dialogue” with their patients on assisted suicide. She said: “Let us put the spin aside and be clear what this means. Encouraging or assisting suicides is a criminal offence in this country, as it is in most others. Were a nurse to be convicted of such an offence, that would of course put into question his or her fitness to practise. Some people may not find this position to their liking, but we simply cannot have nurses — or anyone else for that matter — engaging in ‘dialogue’ about something that is against the law. For the RCN Council to imply anything different is, frankly, dangerous.” She added: “The only dialogue on this subject that nurses can engage in with patients is to point out that assisting suicides is illegal and that they cannot have any part in it. Nurses are as bound by the law on not assisting suicides as is any other citizen and they should remember that.” Lady Emerton points out that it is not uncommon for those who are involved in healthcare to have seriously sick patients ask for help dying, but, she claims these are invariably a cry for help or reasssurance rather than a serious request. “Sometimes the underlying issue is not even their health but something like money or personal relationships”, she added.

              Lady Emerton warns: “There is a possibility that the college is planning to go further on the issue of neutrality, by talking to the MSP Margo MacDonald about her proposals for legalising assisted suicide in Scotland.” The Baroness continues: “We should all be concerned about these developments. I say this not only because I oppose the legalisation of assisted suicide, which I believe would put thousands of vulnerable sick people at risk of self-harm, but also because it looks very much as though the RCN Council is using a microscopic sample of nursing opinion to steer the college on to a politically controversial course. My experience of many years spent in the nursing profession tells me that the majority of nurses remain opposed to helping their patients to kill themselves and are more concerned with improving their healthcare. If the college is to convince its members that it is not using them for its own political purpose, it should carry out a far more searching consultation”, she added.

              A proposal to legalise assisted suicide in England and Wales for those wishing to end their lives abroad was rejected in the House of Lords earlier this month. A disabled Peer, Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, made a moving speech appealing to the House to reject the amendment, warning that many vulnerable patients would be at risk if the law was weakened.


              • #8
                Vicky Robinson and Ray Greenwood:

                July 29, 2009 -- The debate over medically assisted suicide is always an emotive issue, as the case of the death of romantic novelist Jane Aiken Hodge so aptly shows. The 91-year-old planned her death alone for fear that her family could be prosecuted for aiding her suicide. Yet the Medical Royal Colleges have always taken a strong stance against changing the law, and only recently the British Medical Association re-stated its opposition. It was surprising then, when the Royal College of Nursing announced that it had changed its position last week.

                For reasons which were never convincingly explained at the time, the RCN felt that it ought to consult its members again about its policy of opposition to euthanasia. Three months ago it issued a document on its website purporting to give an impartial summary of the issues and inviting nurses to respond with their views. They have done so – or, to be more precise, 1,200 of them have. The College has 390,000 members, which means that it received responses to its consultation from 0.3 per cent of them – or, to put it another way, from just one in every 325 nurses. We are told that 49 per cent of this microscopic sample favoured a change in the law to legalise assistance with suicide and that 40 per cent were opposed. The RCN’s Council concluded from this that “there is no overwhelming support among nurses for either opposing or supporting a change in the law on assisted suicide” and that the College should therefore change its position from opposition to neutrality.

                How on earth can they possibly have come to this conclusion? The sample on which it is based is not only tiny but also unfair. It is not as though the College has asked a random cross section of nurses what they think about legalising assisted suicide. Instead it has received responses from a sample of nurses who have clearly defined views on the subject and who almost certainly include committed supporters of campaigning organisations on both sides of the debate. To suggest that the College’s existing stance should be changed on the evidence of views expressed by less than three out of every thousand nurses is nonsensical. The College’s communique said: “we fully support the common themes that came through the consultation, namely maintaining the nurse-patient relationship, protecting vulnerable patients and making sure there is adequate investment in end of life care”. But these are not ‘themes’; they are the fundamental principles that underpin the ethics of the nursing profession.

                We are told that the RCN intends to “commission further work to make sure that nurses receive much needed guidance around the legal, ethical, regulatory and clinical issues of assisted suicide”. What sort of ‘guidance’ are we talking about here? Assisted suicide is illegal, and it is negligent if the College has not issued nurses before now with guidance on where they stand under the present law and on how to counsel patients or relatives who may raise the issue. According to BBC Radio, the RCN has announced that its change in stance “will allow nurses to engage in dialogue” on the subject with patients. What kind of ‘dialogue’ does the College have in mind? This is all beginning to sound rather worrying. The communiqué concludes with the statement that “today’s decision comes in the wake of defeated amendments to the Coroners and Justice Bill which sought to legalise aspects of assisting suicide including travelling with those who wish to commit suicide abroad”. It is difficult to see the relevance of this statement to the College’s announcement of its change of stance.

                So, what exactly is going on in the Royal College of Nursing? To attempt to represent the views of a tiny fraction of nurses as those of the whole profession is egregiously unjust and unfair. To suggest that the views expressed by 0.3% of nurses represent a fair picture of what the other 99.7% think is stretching the limits of credibility too far. If the College is to shift is position on such an important issue affecting nurses, it needs far more robust evidence than this. Nurses are very busy people, many of them overworked and with little time to spend on the internal politics of their profession. But, if they don’t want to have a practice foisted onto them that could bring them and their patients’ real problems, they had better speak up now before it’s too late.

                Vicky Robinson and Ray Greenwood are nurses.


                • #9

                  July 29, 2009 -- Jane Aiken Hodge won fans worldwide with a string of historical romances, each guaranteed to have a satisfyingly resolved final chapter. But after more than 40 bestselling novels there was a dramatic shift in her final title, Deathline, which explored the contemporary theme of terminal care. Six years after its publication the author’s own ending was far from romantic or straightforward. After taking an overdose of pills the 91-year-old novelist lay in bed, alive but unconscious, for four days last month, watched by her daughters, before she finally died. Her daughter, Jessica Hodge, described yesterday the dilemma faced by the family and the “inhuman” legal position they have endured as they await a decision on whether anyone will be prosecuted. The novelist’s death will fuel the debate on calls for a change in the law to allow medically assisted suicides and raise questions about the legal and ethical issues surrounding the help available to those who want to die.

                  Hodge, who was in good health, had left strict instructions with her GP and in a letter that no attempt be made to revive her. She also had a “Do not resuscitate” card when she was found unconscious last month by a neighbour at her cottage in Lewes, East Sussex. “We knew for certain what she wanted, so we sat there praying she would die overnight,” said her daughter, who was joined at her mother’s bedside by her sister, Joanna, a philosophy professor at Manchester Metropolitan University. The next morning, though, their mother was still alive. “We called her GP and he allowed us to keep her at home. He thought that she would slip away,” Ms Hodge said. “The doctor came each day and we reviewed what we were doing and agreed we were doing the right thing.” Ms Hodge, from Battle, East Sussex, said that she “wobbled” at one point, fearing that her mother might wake up and be in pain. But for another three days the daughters waited. “I don’t think there was any doubt rationally that we were doing the right thing,” Ms Hodge said. “Had there been any distress I am sure the GP would have insisted we got her into hospital but she just lay quietly there, apparently deeply unconscious.”

                  After her mother’s death on June 17 the police were called and removed the empty bottles of medication, documents and a “to whom it may concern” letter. “The letter expressed her clear distress that she had been unable to discuss her plans with her daughters because of the risk of legal action,” Ms Hodge said. Ms Hodge said that her mother had acted alone for fear that her family would be prosecuted for aiding and abetting a suicide. “My mother was protecting us. What a dreadful way to die: not the decision, but the fact that she could not talk to us. She could not say, ‘I am thinking about doing this, hold my hand’.” She added: “I would have wept buckets and I am not sure what I would have done, but I would much rather have had that opportunity.” She and her sister, the neighbour and GP have all been interviewed by police. A file will be passed to the Crown Prosecution Service for lawyers to consider whether there is sufficient evidence for a criminal charge of aiding and abetting suicide.

                  Ms Hodge said: “In a humane society it should be possible for someone in their right mind who, whether through age or illness, wants to die now rather than later, to be able to discuss this wish and to be helped to fulfil it rather than, like my brave mother, having to do it in isolation and without being sure if it is going to work.” Ms Hodge said she understood the anxiety of those opposed to the change in the law because of the risk that people could be encouraged to kill themselves by those motivated by malice or greed. But the present state of the law was sufficiently confusing that, inevitably, the authorities felt they had to be punctilious in investigating any apparently unnatural death. “The result is just horrendous for our family. My mother died five weeks ago and we still have no indication of when we will get the body back, or indeed whether any charges will be brought. It is dreadfully distressing and, I feel, inhuman.”

                  It appeared that the pills the author took had been accumulated over several years. Although she had a mild form of leukaemia and high blood pressure she was in excellent health for her age. Hodge, the American-born daughter of the poet Conrad Aiken, moved to Britain aged 3 and studied at Somerville College, Oxford, and Radcliffe College, Massachusetts. As well as her fiction she was also a biographer of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. Her younger sister, the popular children’s author Joan Aiken, whose books include The Whispering Mountain and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, died in January 2004. Later that year Hodge wrote a letter to a newspaper in which she said: “All this mealy-mouthed talk about the hazards of living wills seems to be making a tidy little death more difficult to achieve. A depressing thought.”

                  A Sussex Police spokeswoman said yesterday that a post-mortem examination had given the cause of death as a drug overdose. “We are not treating this as a suspicious death and there are no suspects,” she said. “A file will be passed to the Crown Prosecution Service as a matter of course.” Ms Hodge said: “My mother was a very, very brave woman. I wish it had not happened like this, but I feel very, very proud of her.”


                  • #10

                    South Korea, July 29, 2009 -- After a series of meetings this month, health experts, religious figures and civic groups announced yesterday the nine basic principles on the stoppage of "meaningless" life-support treatment. Aimed at building a social consensus on the issue, the National Evidence-based Healthcare Collaborating Agency launched the public hearings early this month. Attending experts agreed that "meaningless life-support treatment," which just defers the time of death, can be stopped on terminal patients. But they did not extend this to the cases of mercy killing or doctor-assisted suicide. To minimize the side effects of related regulations, they said, more social and financial support, especially for the social security system, pain-relief treatment and hospice activities, should be offered as well.

                    The agreement requires the medical decision on a terminal patient to be made by more than two specialists, emphasizing the role of the hospital ethics committee as safety measures. According to the agreement, a doctor should offer a detailed explanation to patients, including about pain-relief treatment and written consent. When a terminally ill patient expresses reluctance regarding cardiopulmonary resuscitation or an artificial respirator in advance, such medical actions can be removed, with basic nutrition supply and pain control maintained. Saying more discussions should be made, they did not apply the case of "patient in a persistent vegetative state" to the principles.

                    About a dozen groups such as the Korea Federal Bar Association and the Korea Academy of Medical Sciences also expressed their consent to the newly announced principles. "There was some confusion over the stoppage of life-support treatment," said Heo Dae-seok, the president of the NEHCA. "Experts from legal, religious, medical and social sectors have reached an agreement on the basic principles. Based on these efforts, I hope, terminal patients suffer less from pain caused by meaningless treatment."


                    • #11

                      July 30, 2009 -- A bill to legalise assisted suicide in Scotland is expected to be brought before the Scottish parliament this autumn after the independent MSP Margo MacDonald won cross-party backing. People with a progressive and irreversible illness, the terminally ill, or those who had an "intolerable" quality of life, could get a doctor's help to kill themselves under the proposed law. MacDonald said today that these measures would help people such as Debbie Purdy, the multiple sclerosis suffer whose case is being decided by the House of Lords today, and could have helped the rugby player Dan James, who killed himself at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland last year after he was paralysed in a scrum.

                      In a significant indication of the changing political climate on assisted suicide, MacDonald's private member's bill has been formally supported by 21 MSPs from most parties at Holyrood, which means the proposals will be investigated by parliamentary committees and then debated by the full parliament. Private bills at Holyrood require at least 18 signatories before they can be presented. The last attempt to table an assisted suicide bill at Holyrood, by the Liberal Democrat MSP Jeremy Purvis in 2005, failed because he secured only 12 MSPs' signatures in the face of a concerted campaign against the measure from medical and religious organisations.

                      MacDonald, 66, said a vote by the Royal College of Nursing on Saturday to take a neutral stance on the issue, the rise in the number of Britons going to Switzerland to kill themselves and repeated opinion polls showing majority support on the issue had significantly influenced MSPs. "All the evidence that has come to light over the last few months has strengthened my belief I was right to raise the matter and join the debate, and I'm right to raise a bill and test public opinion," she said. MacDonald, previously a Scottish National party MP for Glasgow Govan, has Parkinson's disease. In an emotional speech at Holyrood in 2008, she said she wanted the right to die and to ensure that if she did eventually choose assisted suicide, her husband, Jim Sillars, also a former SNP MP, could not be prosecuted.

                      Unlike in England, the law on assisted suicide in Scotland is ambiguous. It is not specifically outlawed, but the issue has not yet been tested by the police or the courts. The proposed legislation will require anyone who wants assisted suicide to sign a legal declaration while still mentally fit, a form of "living will". If the patient later opts for suicide, their mental state will then have to be assessed in a psychiatric examination to ensure they are not simply suffering from depression, MacDonald said. When the draft bill is completed this autumn, it will be investigated by MSPs on the Holyrood health committee, and possibly the justice committee. These committees can amend the bill, before presenting it for a full parliamentary vote. The British Medical Association, religious ethics groups and the major churches still vociferously oppose assisted suicide, and no Tory MSP has yet publicly supported the measure. Critics fear Scotland will become a centre for suicide tourism if no similar measures are passed in England.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Al-khiyal View Post

                        July 30, 2009 -- Debbie Purdy has won a significant legal victory in the House of Lords which lawyers are describing as a turning point for the law on assisted suicide. Purdy, 46, from Bradford, West Yorkshire, who has primary progressive multiple sclerosis, succeeded in arguing that it is a breach of her human rights not to know whether her husband, Cuban jazz violinist Omar Puente, will be prosecuted if he accompanies her to Swiss clinic Dignitas where she wishes to die if her condition worsens.

                        The decision – the last ever by the law lords before they recommence work as justices of the new supreme court in October – went further than expected in Purdy's favour, lawyers say. Ordering the director of public prosecutions to issue a policy setting out when those in Puente's position can expect to face prosecution, the court ruled that the current lack of clarity is a violation of the right to a private and family life. "It's a complete victory," said Saimo Chahal, partner at Bindmans who represented Purdy. "I always knew we would have to go to the House of Lords to get a judgment that was reasoned and considered". Purdy's two previous attempts to request a policy from prosecutors failed after the courts said the current situation was lawful.

                        Despite at least 115 British people already known to have travelled abroad for an assisted suicide, with an average of two a month since 2002 and despite scores of police investigations, not a single family member has been prosecuted. A report last month from campaign group Dignity in Dying, which has supported Purdy's case, warned that a further 34 Britons were in the final stages of travelling abroad for the same purpose. Earlier this month renowned British conductor Sir Edward Downes, 85, and his wife Joan, 74, joined those who have ended their lives at Dignitas. Their death, watched by their children Caractacus, 41, and Boudicca, 39, is still the subject of a police investigation. In a further development last year, DPP Keir Starmer published a decision not to prosecute the relatives of 23-year old rugby player Daniel James even though there was enough evidence, because it was not in the public interest.

                        Campaigners welcome today's victory for Purdy of a recognition of rights for those who wish to die in a manner of their choosing, and say that what is ultimately needed is a change in the law. Parliament urgently needs to acknowledge the fact that people are travelling overseas to die – and this trend shows no sign of stopping", said Sarah Wooton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying. "It's time the 1961 Suicide Act was brought up to date to reflect what's really going on in UK courts".

                        Parliament has so far resisted attempts to change the law, with the latest proposals defeated in the House of Lords by 194 votes to 141 earlier this month. But campaigners say that today's ruling will place unprecedented pressure on parliament to act. "This case means the DPP will have to publish the factors for and against prosecuting those who assist suicide abroad, but it would only be retrospective", Wooton said. "But it sends a clear message that the law can distinguish between different types of behaviour, and saying that compassionate assistance is not a crime. Surely parliament will need to react to that".


                        • #13

                          July 30, 2009 -- Reaction to the law lords' ruling today ranged from delight to dismay. Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, a campaign group which supported Debbie Purdy's case, said the ruling was "significant" and better than "the current legal muddle" because it drew a distinction between maliciously encouraging someone to kill themselves and compassionately assisting someone to die. "This historic judgment ensures the law keeps up with changes in society and crucially provides a more rational deterrent to abuse than a blanket ban which is never enforced," she said. "A law which is not understood, enforced or supported by the majority of the public is not fit for purpose … It gives greater protection to those who may have been considered vulnerable to coercion."

                          A spokesman for pressure group Care Not Killing cautioned that the ruling would not in fact provide people such as Debbie Purdy's husband, Omar Puente, with immunity from criminal charges if they helped their loved ones kill themselves. "The court has required the director of public prosecutions to publish an offence-specific policy statement making clear the considerations to which he will have regard in deciding whether to consent to a prosecution in cases such as this," he said. "To the extent that this improves the clarity of the way the law is administered, it is to be welcomed. The court has also observed, however, that such a policy statement will not provide Ms Purdy's husband with a guarantee of non-prosecution in the event that at a future date he should assist his wife to go to Switzerland for assisted suicide."

                          Phyllis Bowman, executive officer of lobby group Right to Life, claimed the law lords had exceeded their powers and threatened to take further legal action. "They have changed primary legislation without any reference to parliament," she said. "They have declared that it is lawful for somebody to help a person to commit suicide abroad – but not at home. We will be consulting with our lawyers to see what possible action can be taken." She added that disability rights groups across the country opposed any change to the laws on assisted suicide and euthanasia, on the basis that it would undermine the right to life of vulnerable people. Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the MS Society, said: "Debbie Purdy's victory has pushed MS into the spotlight but there is far more to living with MS – even in its more severe forms – than planning how to die."


                          • #14

                            South Korea, July 30, 2009 -- The highly controversial term "right to die with dignity" will be replaced by "discontinuance of life prolongation," a softer term less prone to social misconception. The National Evidence-based Healthcare Collaborating Agency, together with experts in the medical, religious, legal and social fields settled on nine basic principles on the discontinuance of unnecessary life prolongation, officials said Wednesday. The set of agreed principles included the disuse of "right to die with dignity." The Supreme Court recently granted a 77-year-old female patient, who has been comatose since last February, the right to be removed from life support as her family members requested. She was frequently described as the first "right to die with dignity" case but experts pointed out that this new term was ambiguous and inappropriate. It is also referred to as "doctor-assisted suicide" in some countries, they said. The new term will prevent unnecessary social misunderstanding and keep the related debates from expanding into euthanasia or medical suicide, said officials.


                            • #15

                              July 31, 2009 -- An MP says he will introduce a Bill to parliament that will legalise assisted suicide in Britain following MS sufferer Debbie Purdy's landmark legal victory yesterday. Miss Purdy won the right to be told under what circumstances her husband Omar Puente could be prosecuted if he accompanied her to the Dignitas euthanasia clinic in Switzerland. The House of Lord ruling did not however order a change in the law on assisting suicide, which remains punishable by up to 14 years in jail.

                              David Winnick, Labour MP for Walsall North, said he planned to enter the ballot to put forward a private members' bill suggesting "a measure whereby assisted dying could take place in this country. The question arises from yesterday's decision - should we recognise cases such as Debbie Purdy, should we change the law, should people have to go abroad?" he said. Mr Winnick said he was firmly against the process being used to put pressure on the disabled and said there would have to be safeguards in the law to ensure it was used properly.

                              At the same time, the Director of Public Prosecutions has vowed to clarify the right to die law within weeks. DPP Keir Starmer QC said prosecutors would begin work immediately on an interim policy setting out the reasons why prosecutions should or should not be brought. Mr Starmer said the interim policy should be ready by September, followed by the final version by spring next year.

                              Miss Purdy told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'The only way to determine what the policy should be is to discuss it so that we can make sure that all safeguards are considered and thought about and we get a policy which is appropriate for the 21st century.' She played down fears that the new guidance would lead to an increased number of people being pressured into ending their life. 'I don't think there is going to be a rush to get Auntie May to the knacker's yard because they want to inherit her house,' she said. 'The DPP has got the responsibility of making sure that financial gain is definitely not something which should be allowed for assistance.' The policy should distinguish between a malicious act and a compassionate act, she added. 'I want to be involved in the discussion about what the policy should be and also a campaign to change the law in this country,' she said. 'We can't allow de facto changes in the law, it has got to be the result of proper open discussion.'

                              Ms Purdy said the DPP's clarification on the law meant that, for the first time, people had some safeguards in place rather than just a prohibition or the threat of prosecution after the event. 'We have got clear guidelines beforehand so that people can change their actions in order to make sure that they don't risk prosecution,' she said. Miss Purdy's lawyers yesterday hailed her win as a significant step towards the eventual legalisation of assistance for suicide in certain circumstances. But critics said the decision to instruct the DPP to set out in clear terms when someone will be prosecuted drove a 'coach and horses' through the Suicide Act. This is because the law is effectively being changed without reference to Parliament. Nick Cartwright, of Reading University's school of law, said: 'Any guidelines will have to clearly set out the circumstances in which loved ones would not be prosecuted, giving reassurance to potentially thousands who would have otherwise been deterred and opening the way to decriminalised suicide tourism.'

                              After yesterday's ruling, a delighted Miss Purdy said: 'It feels like everything else doesn't matter and now I can just be a normal person. It's terrific. It gives me my life back. More and more people want choice about how they end their life. Yet, until now, the law has refused to say whether people would face prosecution for accompanying someone abroad to exercise this choice.' More than 100 British citizens have ended their lives at Dignitas, and no one who has accompanied them has ever been prosecuted. However, the reasons why legal action has not been taken have never been made clear. Mr Starmer had also previously said it would not be possible to give a guarantee of immunity from legal action. Miss Purdy said that the uncertainty over the issue surrounding suicide breached her human rights and demanded a clarification of the law.

                              The 46-year-old from Bradford was diagnosed with MS in March 1995 and has been in a wheelchair since 2001. She plans to go to Switzerland to kill herself when her pain becomes unbearable, and wants her Cuban violinist husband to be at her side as long as she can be sure he will not be prosecuted. Lord Pannick, QC, for Miss Purdy, had told the Law Lords that, unless the law was clarified, she might be forced to end her life earlier than she planned because her husband would be unable to help her, without risking prosecution, if she became totally dependent. If the risk of prosecution was sufficiently low, she could wait until the very last minute before travelling with her husband's assistance.

                              Giving judgment yesterday Lord Hope, sitting with Lords Phillips, Brown and Neuberger and Baroness Hale, said it was no part of the Law Lords' function to decriminalise assisted suicide, which was up to Parliament. Their function was to say what the law is and, if uncertain, to clarify it. They upheld Miss Purdy's argument that the DPP should put in writing the factors that he regarded as relevant in deciding whether or not to prosecute. The dramatic ruling comes after the Royal College of Nursing declared it was dropping its opposition to assisted suicide and adopting a neutral stance. And in a recent poll, 74 per cent of respondents said doctors should be allowed to help terminally ill patients to end their lives.

                              Last night Phyllis Bowman, executive-officer of Right To Life, attacked the Law Lords' ruling. 'In effect, they have driven a coach and horses through Section 2(1) of the Suicide Act 1961, declaring that a particular class of offence cannot be prosecuted,' she said. 'In other words, they have changed primary legislation without any reference to Parliament. They have declared that it is lawful for somebody to help a person to commit suicide abroad - but not at home. We would like to know what is the difference in the intention or the crime - apart from where it was carried out. We do not intend to leave the matter there. We will be consulting with our lawyers to see what possible action can be taken.'

                              Anthony Ozimic, from pro-life group Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said the ruling was 'dangerous and disturbing'. He said: 'It sends out a terrible message to disabled and the seriously ill that they are less valued than others. It is also sends out the message that in certain circumstances it is right for people with disabilities to be assisted to kill themselves. This is fundamentally unethical and will put vulnerable people under terrible pressure to agree to suicide if they are made to feel they are a burden on their loved ones or society.'

                              Miss Purdy had already lost challenges in the High Court and Court of Appeal, and the Lords' ruling was her last chance of success in the UK legal system. Mr Starmer said: 'This is a difficult and sensitive subject and a complex area of the law. However, I fully accept the judgment of the House of Lords. The CPS has great sympathy for the personal circumstances of Ms Purdy and her family. In the absence of a legislative framework, cases of this sensitive nature present a significant challenge for prosecutors. I have therefore decided that, once our interim policy is published, we will undertake a public consultation exercise in order to take account of the full range of views on this subject. In the continuing absence of any legislative framework by then, I will publish my finalised policy in the spring of 2010.'


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