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Pratchett backs assisted suicide tribunals

2 February 2010

Sir Terry Pratchett, author of fantasy novels and a victim of Alzheimer’s disease, has called for tribunals to be set up, including a lawyer and a doctor, to authorise assisted suicides.

The move comes after a YouGov poll for The Daily Telegraph showed that 75 per cent of more than 2,000 people believed that the law on assisted suicide should be amended.

Giving the Richard Dimbleby lecture on BBC1 last night, Sir Terry said: “The members of the tribunal would be acting for the good of society as well as that of the applicant – horrible word – to ensure that they are of sound and informed mind, firm in their purpose, suffering from a life-threatening and incurable disease and not under the influence of a third party.

“It would need wiser heads than mine, though heaven knows they should be easy enough to find, to determine how such tribunals are constituted.

“But I would suggest there should be a lawyer, one with expertise in dynastic family affairs who has become good at recognising what somebody really means and, indeed, if there is outside pressure.

“And a medical practitioner experienced in dealing with complexities of serious long-term illnesses.”

Sir Terry also suggested that tribunal members should be over 45, by which time “they may have acquired the rare gift of wisdom”.

Writing in the November 2009 edition of the Solicitors Journal Private Client Focus, Guy Otten, tribunal judge and consultant solicitor at Hempsons, put forward similar proposals for a system of assisted suicide tribunals.

“It’s not so extraordinary an idea that only one person could have come up with it,” Otten said this week. “I was not aware of any others at the time.

“I was following through from the DPP’s guidelines published last autumn. They seemed to be allowing a change in the law on assisted suicide through prosecution guidelines, which is not really satisfactory.”

Under Otten’s plan, tribunals would consist of a judge, a health professional, preferably a psychiatrist, to ensure that the applicant had capacity and the proposed method of suicide was appropriate, and a social worker to assess the position of the relatives and ensure the death was voluntary.

Otten said the tribunal would “in effect clear the way for an assisted suicide without fear of prosecution in a manner the public could have confidence in”.

The CPS and coroner would have the right to appeal.

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