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Expert Wants Assisted Suicide Law Reform In UK

August 29, 2011

Terminally ill patients should receive medical help to commit suicide if they want to die, a government adviser has said.

Martin Green, a social care expert for the Department of Health, said those who were physically unable to end their own lives were being deprived of “choice” and “autonomy” in Britain where assisted suicide remains illegal. He has now called for a change in the law.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, he said policy should be decided with either a referendum or a free vote in Parliament.

“If you’re going to give people ‘choice’, it should extend to whether or not they want to die,” he told the paper. “If people have got the capacity to make an informed choice then it is my view that they should be allowed to make the informed choice.”

Last year, the Director of Public Prosecutions published revised guidelines which stated that assisted suicide would remain a criminal offence in England and Wales but that individual decisions on prosecution would depend on the circumstances of each case.

The guidance made clear that someone acting out of compassion, to help a terminally ill patient with a “clear, settled and informed wish to die”, is unlikely to face the courts.

However, the offence is still punishable by up to 14 years in prison and there is no legal protection for doctors or other medical professionals who help someone to end their life.

Mr Green, the chief executive of the English Community Care Association, which represents nursing and care home groups, said the decision to commit suicide was therefore not an available choice.

“In terms of people who have cognitive function, it seems to me to be wholly consistent to say, if you’re going to give people choice and control and autonomy, it should extend to whether or not they want to die,” he told the paper.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “The Government believes that any change to the law in this emotive and contentious area is an issue of individual conscience and a matter for Parliament to decide rather than Government policy.”

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