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Swiss could call time on assisted suicide

The Swiss government has proposed legislation that would make it illegal for disabled people from the UK to go to clinics there to commit suicide.

Politicians have put forward two proposals in an effort to regulate the practice of assisted suicide.

The first would ban assisted suicide outright, and a second would involve restrictions on who could seek assistance to die.

Under the second proposal, which is said to be favoured by parliament, an assisted suicide organisation would have a duty of care to help only people with a terminal illness and who declare their

wish to die, and who have given long and proper consideration to their decision.

Organisations would also need to obtain the medical opinions of two independent doctors certifying that the person has the legal capacity to make a decision and that they have a physical illness that is incurable and will result in death within a short period.

Assisted suicide organisations would not be allowed to help a person to die for profit and they would also have to record each case in the event of a criminal investigation.

Baroness (Jane) Campbell, who fought an amendment to the coroners and justice bill to allow people to help a disabled person to travel abroad to die without the threat of prosecution, said:

"Anything in that direction is going to please me because I do not support any form of assisted dying in this country or abroad."

Tom Shakespeare, campaigner and Research Fellow at Newcastle University, welcomed the Swiss government's move which he said would regulate the current free for all.

He said:

"I don't believe that we should support suicide for anybody disabled or not, however I do think that it is humane to offer assisted dying to people in terminal stages of illness."

He added that he would like to see such legislation introduced in the UK.

Meanwhile, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, has called on Disability Now readers to give their views on the factors they think should be taken into account when the Crown Prosecution Service is deciding whether or not to allow prosecutions for assisted suicide.

*The policy and consultation document are at www.cps.gov.uk <file://www.cps.gov.uk>
or write to the Assisted Suicide Policy Team, Crown Prosecution Service Headquarters, 6th floor,
50 Ludgate Hill, London, EC4M 7EX to obtain a copy.

The closing date for responses is December 16 and the finalised policy will be issued in Spring 2010.

By Sunil Peck - Disability Now