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Richard Stein calls on DPP to clarify current assisted suicide guidance

Leigh Day represents stroke victim AM who wants the right to die

6 September 2011

The lawyer representing AM, the victim of a stroke who is currently taking legal action for access to professional and practical help in his right to die case has called on The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Keir Starmer, to clarify current assisted suicide guidance to ensure that, provided they were not acting for improper motives, professionals would not face prosecution for assisting in such cases.

Richard Stein from Leigh Day & Co was commenting on Mr Starmer's statement that the CPS had not implemented a "blanket policy" banning the prosecution of cases of assisted suicide, despite no prosecutions being brought for the offence since new guidelines were issued 18 months ago.

In an interview with The Times newspaper, Mr Starmer said: "Any inference that the Crown Prosecution Service has implemented a blanket policy of simply not prosecuting for this offence would be wrong.

"Each case is carefully considered on its own facts and merits. Prosecutors must decide the importance of each public interest factor in the circumstances of each case and go on to make an overall assessment."

At the moment, anyone acting with compassion to help end the life of someone who has decided they cannot go on is unlikely to face criminal charges.

Mr Stein, Head of the Human Rights Department at Leigh Day & Co said:

"The guidance on assisted suicide needs to be unequivocal and any ambiguity needs to be removed from such a crucial area of the law. Keir Starmer says of the recent cases which were not prosecuted that none have involved an individual who was 'motivated by the prospect of gaining from the victim's death' but rather, as the guidance puts it, they were motivated 'wholly by compassion'.

"Unfortunately, that is not the only factor in deciding whether it is in the public interest to prosecute.  Another factor in the guidance from the CPS, tending in favour of prosecution, is if a professional was acting in their professional capacity, whether paid or not.

"The definition of compassion is therefore problematic for professionals such as doctors and lawyers who are undoubtedly acting out of compassion but who are not family or friends and could face both professional and legal sanction."

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