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House of Lords Debate on Prosecuting Policy in Cases of Assisted Suicide

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Peers debate Baroness Jay of Paddington's question regarding application of the Director of Public Prosecutions's policy in cases of encouraging or assisting suicide.

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On 13 February 2012 the House of Lords debated a question by Baroness Jay of Paddington relating to the application of the prosecuting policy published by the Director of Public Prosecutions two years previously concerning cases of encouraging or assisting suicide. While some of those who spoke in the debate felt that the law should be changed to license physician-assisted assisted suicide by law in prescribed circumstances, others disagreed.

Lord Swinfen felt that there were dangers in licensing such acts in advance:

"I congratulate the DPP on the way in which he has produced what in my view is a very compassionate policy. Some people have argued that it would be better to investigate a case of assisted suicide before it has happened, so that the wishes of the victim and the intentions of the assister can be scrutinised, but this would involve handing a licence to the assister based on subjective assessments of the victim's state of mind, and on presumptions about the intentions of the assisters. Such a process is far from foolproof. As one witness who, I understand, is a consultant psychiatrist put it to the group of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, "if you want to be devious about it, you can be". Moreover, once a licence to assist has been granted, there would be nothing to prevent coercion or manipulation. The death would not be investigated, as it would have been officially authorised in advance."