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Stroke victim who wants to die challenges assisted suicide guidelines

19 August 2011

A stroke victim who suffers from ‘locked-in’ syndrome has launched a judicial review to get the DPP’s assisted suicide guidelines amended to provide more protection from prosecution for lawyers and doctors.

The guidelines, published in March 2010, suggested that friends and relatives motivated by compassion should not be prosecuted under the Suicide Act 1961, but required prosecutors to consider whether the suspect was acting “in his or her capacity as a medical doctor, nurse, other healthcare professional” (see solicitorsjournal.com, 2 March 2010).

Richard Stein, head of human rights at Leigh Day & Co, said the man, known as AM, wanted to die but his friends and relatives were not prepared to be involved in helping him.

Stein said AM was thinking of starving himself to death, and wanted to find out from a doctor what this was like and whether he could get any medication.

However, he said that doctors had refused to give any advice because of BMA guidelines brought in the wake of those introduced by the BPP.

Stein said the SRA warned him that, if he began preparing the case, he could be accused of bringing the profession into disrepute, but this would depend on the public reaction.

He said he had asked the High Court for an interim declaration to say that it was lawful for him to take steps to prepare the case.

“I think the DPP made a mistake in suggesting professionals were not acting compassionately,” he said.

“The whole focus is on people with friends and relatives and the reassurance given excludes us as professionals.

“We would like a straightforward adjustment to the guidelines, but, even if professionals are not prosecuted, they could be disciplined.”

Stein said that, in the absence of reform to the law on assisted suicide, the courts should make it clear that it is not in the public interest for professionals to be prosecuted or disciplined by the SRA or the GMC.

He added that a decision on the papers could be made by the High Court as early as next month.

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