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Assisted suicide: families can still face prosecution

The Guardian - 26th February 2010 3:00 am

Family members involved in “mercy killings” will still face criminal charges despite the publication today of new guidelines to clarify the rules on assisted suicide.

After one of the most widespread public consultations ever carried out, the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, has created six mitigating factors against an individual being prosecuted for assisting the suicide of another.

One of the other key changes is the removal of any reference to the condition of the victim - whether they are terminally ill or near death - as a mitigating factor. Instead, the focus has switched to examine the motivation of a suspect when considering whether to prosecute anyone for assisted suicide.

Starmer made it clear that relatives who actively help a terminally ill individual to die are not covered by the guidelines and individuals could be expected to be charged with murder or manslaughter.

The distinction means people like Kay Gilderdale - who was prosecuted for the attempted murder of her daughter who had ME - could still face criminal charges. A judge last month criticised the Crown Prosecution Service for charging Gilderdale and a jury found her not guilty in less than two hours.

Crucially Starmer has removed one key mitigating factor from his original draft guidelines published last September - the fact that the person assisting is a family member. Starmer said it had been removed after a public response raised concerns that family members could be “manipulative” or even “antagonistic” towards the individual who was sick.

Read more at The Guardian.

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