UK's ex-Health Secretary wants suicide law change

Fri Mar 20, 2009 7:39am EDT
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By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Former British Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt called on Friday for a change in the law to allow people to take terminally ill patients abroad for assisted suicide without fear of prosecution.

Hewitt has tabled an amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill, backed by more than 100 MPs from different parties, to bring the law into line with what she said was the current practice of prosecutors not to take action.

The law says assisting suicide is a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.

However, since 1992, almost 100 British citizens have ended their lives at the Dignitas facility in Switzerland -- where assisted suicide is legal -- without their relatives being prosecuted.

Last month Debbie Purdy, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, lost a legal bid to force the government to clarify the law on assisted suicide to protect her husband from any future action.

She wanted assurances from the Director of Public Prosecutions that her husband would not be prosecuted if he helped her to go to a euthanasia facility abroad.

"In the long term we need a bill to change the law to allow terminally ill, mentally competent adults suffering at the end of their lives the choice of an assisted death, within safeguards, in this country," Hewitt said.

"In the meantime, I hope that the amendment I have tabled will prompt the long overdue parliamentary debate necessary to bring the law on assisted suicide in line with the practice of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the courts."   Continued...