Assisted Dying

Thank you for contacting me about assisted suicide. 

Coping with a terminal illness is distressing and difficult both for the patient and their families and I sympathise with anyone who finds themselves in this situation.

Assisting or encouraging suicide is a criminal offence under Section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961 for which the maximum penalty is 14 years’ imprisonment. The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) published guidelines primarily concerned with advising the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) prosecutors about the factors which they need to consider when deciding whether it is in the public interest to prosecute a person for assisting or encouraging another to commit suicide. 

I understand that some people draw a distinction between assisted dying, which they see as allowing dying people to have a choice over the manner and timing of their imminent death, and assisted suicide, which they see as helping people who are not dying to choose death over life. The criminal law currently makes no such distinction; under section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961, the offence is “encouraging or assisting” suicide, and my use of the term “suicide” reflects that. It does not indicate prejudice either way, and it is not an indication of the Government taking one side over the other.

Suicide, assisting or encouraging suicide, assisted dying and euthanasia are all subjects on which it is entirely possible for people to hold widely different but defensible opinions. This is why the substance of the law in this area is not a matter of party politics but of conscience, and any vote would be a free one should the law in this area ever be altered. 

Thank you, once again, for taking the time to contact me.