Overlooking the Criminally Compassionate: What Are the Implications of Prosecutorial Policy on Encouraging or Assisting Suicide?
Medical law review 2010 Winter; 18(4): 442-70
The decision of the House of Lords in the case of Purdy compelled the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to promulgate guidance as to the exercise of prosecutorial discretion with respect to those suspected of an offence under the Suicide Act 1961. Consequently, the Policy for Prosecutors in Respect of Cases of Encouraging or Assisting Suicide now sets out determining factors for potential culpability in encouraging or assisting suicide. This paper discusses the implications of the Policy, particularly with respect to the role of compassion as a key determining factor which effectively decriminalises acts of assisting or encouraging suicide in the majority of cases, despite such acts remaining technically criminal. Following the DPP's assertion that the location of the actual suicide is irrelevant to the prosecutorial decision, this article considers whether some elements of the Policy might belie this assertion. The apparently heightened risk of prosecution now faced by doctors and other healthcare professionals and workers is also considered. Finally, in light of the apparent prosecutorial endorsement of compassionate assisted suicide, this article questions whether we might now expect the imminent legalisation of assisted suicide.
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