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Assisted suicide: Major new report to Parliament says assisted suicide should be legal

A major new report will today tell MPs that they should consider changing the law on assisted suicide to allow some terminally ill people the right to end their lives at home with the help of their doctor.

The report by the Commission on Assisted Dying concluded that the option of assisted suicide could be safely offered provided stringent safeguards were observed.

The 400-page report is the result of more than a year of investigation by the Commission, which included a former commissioner of the Met, a former president of the General Medical Council, a leading consultant on disability equality, an Anglican priest and a range of mental health, palliative care and social care experts.

The report was commissioned by the campaign group Dignity in Dying and was funded by the author Terry Pratchett who has a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer's disease and businessman Bernard Lewis. The Commission was chaired by the former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer who only agreed to participate if the report could be entirely independent.

Under the proposals only terminally ill patients with less than a year to live would have the right to seek out an assisted suicide. Patients would only then be allowed to proceed if they met strict eligibility criteria, such as:

  • Two independent doctors satisfied with their diagnosis
  • Patient is made aware of all the social and medical support available
  • Voluntary decision with no sense of being pressurised by others, or feeling that they are a 'burden'
  • Not acting under the influence of a mental illness and capable of taking the necessary medication themselves, without any help

Assisted suicide is a criminal offence in the UK at present. Anybody found guilty of helping another person to die can be sentenced to up to 14 years in prison. However, guidelines produced by the Director of Public Prosecutions in 2010 suggested that those who helped terminally ill loved ones to ease their suffering may not be prosecuted.

"The choice is whether vulnerable people are better protected by the current law, where the only safeguard is the threat of prosecution, or whether the stringent safeguards we envisage provides them better protection," said Lord Falconer.

"What the commission is proposing is a less safe version of the highly controversial 'Oregon Law' which sees the terminally ill offered drugs to kill themselves, but not expensive life-extending drugs," said Dr Peter Saunders of the organisation Care Not Killing, which opposes all forms of assisted suicide.

Do you think assisted suicide should be legalised? Leave a comment below.

Related links:

Read more on the story (The Guardian)

Assisted suicide (FindLaw)

Find local criminal solicitors throughout the UK (FindLaw)