An important issue in the ‘assisted dying’ debate.

The Times has raised an important issue in the ‘assisted dying’ debate

An editorial in The Times, “Death and the Law” (£),  asks whether a change in the law on assisted suicide is needed.  Describing the prosecution policy published in 2010 as “sensible guidelines”, it takes the view that “the law that Lord Falconer now wants is a step too far”.

The Times has put its finger on an important question in the ‘assisted dying’ debate – namely, what reason have we to be believe that the law we have is not working as it should? 

The evidence does not suggest that the law is seriously amiss.  The penalties it holds in reserve are such as to make anyone minded to assist someone else’s suicide think very carefully indeed before proceeding, while the discretion the law gives to the Director of Public Prosecutions not to press charges where that is not in the public interest allows justice to be tempered with mercy where necessary. 

The 2010 policy sets out clearly the factors which might argue for or against a prosecution, while warning that there can be no immunity from prosecution and that every case must be judged in the light of its individual circumstances.

As a result the incidence of assisted suicide in Britain is small – very much smaller, it has to be said, than in the handful of jurisdictions which have gone down the road of legalising the practice – and the cases that do occur are generally those that do not call for prosecution. 

It is difficult, therefore, to argue convincingly that the law as it stands is not fit for purpose.  Demonstrating that is, surely, a necessary preliminary to any consideration of proposals to change the law.  But it is a nettle that has not been grasped.