Assisted Suicide — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:58 pm on 5th March 2014.

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Photo of Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Chair, Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct 8:58 pm, 5th March 2014

My Lords, I was a member of the court that considered Purdy and gave the last ever judgment in the House of Lords. Whether strictly we were entitled to direct the DPP to issue guidelines as to his prosecution policy may be doubted. However, it was the best we could do and I am very glad we did it. I very well remember Mrs Purdy’s evident delight at the comfort that she felt those guidelines would give her, perhaps even extending her life by giving her the assurance that, even if she left it too late to kill herself, in desperation her partner could come to her help.

As to the substance of the guidelines, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, has explained, it may be that a forthcoming judgment from the Supreme Court in two consolidated appeals will throw some further light on these, not least on the position of assisted suicide by doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals. Obviously, legislation is better than guidelines but we must do the best we can with what we presently have.

My final point is that we should note, in my case with approval, that in certain respects these guidelines go further than the proposed Bill by noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, as to what circumstances would be acceptable. That is unsurprising given that one of the truly tragic cases that we looked at in Purdy was that of Daniel James, a young man who suffered an appalling spinal injury in a rugby match and later was accompanied by his parents to Switzerland to end his life. Given that the boy had already tried more than once to commit suicide, his parents had repeatedly urged him not to and that his death caused them, far from any advantage—on the contrary—the deepest distress, surely it was right not to prosecute them. I hope that the House agrees with the view that that was the correct outcome of that case.