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UK chief prosecutor publishes interim policy on assisted suicide

[JURIST] UK Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer [official profile] published an interim policy on assisted suicide [press release] Wednesday that takes several factors into consideration in deciding whether to prosecute such cases. While the new policy does not legalize assisted suicide, it introduces public interest considerations that are to be weighed including compassion, age of the dying, the relation between the dying and those assisting, and the ability of the dying to make an informed decision. Maintaining that the new policy does not permit assisted suicide, Starmer said that prosecutors "must decide the importance of each public interest factor in the circumstances of each case" to determine which cases to prosecute. Public opinion on the issue will be gathered through a consultation process [materials] before a final policy is issued.

The interim policy was published pursuant to a July order [judgment text; JURIST report] from the UK Law Lords [official website] to clarify the issue. The order resulted from a case brought by Debbie Purdy, a multiple sclerosis sufferer, who wants to travel to Switzerland with her husband to end her life. Under the country's Suicide Act 1961 [text], Purdy's husband faces criminal liability for aiding her suicide in another country. Many Britons have reportedly gone to the Dignitas clinic [website, in German] in Switzerland to obtain assisted suicides. Also in July, the House of Lords rejected a bill [JURIST report] that would would have barred prosecuting those who go abroad to help others commit assisted suicide. Last year, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown [official website] spoke out against laws allowing assisted suicide [BBC report], saying that he would not create laws that "put pressure on people to end their lives."

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