On Wednesday Keir Starmer, Director of Public Prosecutions, released new guidelines to be used in consideration of cases of assisted suicide. Although they bring no change in the Suicide Act of 1961, they provide a much clearer framework for the likelihood of a prosecution arising from an act of euthanasia. For the most part the guidelines are sensible, measured and sensitive, suggesting that those assisting suicide are unlikely to face prosecution if who they are helping conveyed a “clear, settled and informed wish” to die.
There seems little reason such guidelines could not and should not be incorporated into existing law. As humans, one of the most important rights we feel we possess is that of our right to life. A second is our right to liberty – the freedom to make our own choices, free from the coercion of others. Such important entitlements should not be snatched away from us when we become sick or dependent on others; they should be ours in matters of death just as they are in life. If an individual alone has the ownership of their life, than it is logical that – provided they are in a state to do so – they also have the right to decide when that life should end. And if due to physical weakness a person is unable to commit suicide, than another should be able to assist them in ending their life – not because the assister stands to gain from the act, but because they are doing it on behalf of and in the sole interest of one they care deeply about. As the DPP has signalled, acting with compassion for someone you love is not an action that should be criminalized.
If legalizing assisted suicide causes a rise in the deaths of the terminally ill or incurable, it is simply because those who no longer wished to live are able to end their lives without the worry and guilt of their loved ones being prosecuted for their ‘crime’. Human beings are unique creatures; while some may wish to end their suffering prematurely, many will remain determined to live out the whole of their natural life. Adjusting the law to provide choice will not force the sick to die. People that pressurize and coerce the ill into committing suicide or take advantage of diminished mental capacity have not committed suicide; they wrongly taken another’s life and should be punished for it.