Calls for it to be legalised for a limited category of people with fatal diseases
By Kirsty Walker
Last updated at 1:12 AM on 2nd January 2012
Critics have raised concerns over the impartiality of the commission, which was set up and funded by the author Sir Terry Pratchett
Helping the terminally ill to end their lives should be made legal, a report is expected to recommend this week.
The Independent Commission on Assisted Dying is set to call for it to be legalised for a limited category of people with fatal diseases, and to be strictly monitored.
The commission, chaired by the former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer, is expected to criticise the legal framework which means that relatives face prosecution and even imprisonment for helping loved ones to commit suicide.
It will suggest that those who encourage or assist another to die should no longer be threatened with prosecution in certain cases.
There must also be strict procedures to ensure that terminally ill people are made fully aware of the palliative and social care available to them.
The findings, to be published this week, will reignite the fierce debate between supporters and opponents of assisted dying.
Critics have raised concerns over the impartiality of the commission, which was set up and funded by the author Sir Terry Pratchett, who has Alzheimer’s disease, and high street businessman Bernard Lewis. Both are supporters of legalising assisted dying.
Lord Falconer himself has previously warned that the law on assisted suicide was ‘no longer fit’, while most of the individuals on the 11-strong commission have expressed their support for a change in the law in the past.
Prime Minister David Cameron has made clear that he opposes any moves to legalise assisted dying and the Government is unlikely to accept the commission’s recommendations.
At present helping someone to commit suicide is a crime that can bring a 14-year jail sentence.
However, more than 150 Britons have travelled to Zurich to die in the Dignitas suicide clinic under Switzerland’s liberal euthanasia laws without any of the relatives and friends who helped them being charged.
Guidelines issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions have also made it clear that no relative or friend is likely to be tried for assisted suicide unless they acted out of greed or malice.
Yesterday former Metropolitan Police commissioner Lord Blair, a member of the commission, warned that the current law on assisted dying is ‘incoherent and unsafe’.
‘At a time when they should be grieving, under the current system relatives of loved ones are forced into a world of uncertainty that leaves the police and prosecutors torn between good practice and natural human sympathy,’ he said.
But Tory MP Nadine Dorries said: ‘This commission, paid for by a known reformer and packed with strident voices to change the law, is unfortunately already discredited due to its lack of impartiality.’
A spokesman for Care Not Killing said: ‘This is a deeply worrying and flawed report that is being presented as a serious investigation into this complicated and divisive issue. It is not.
‘The law exists to protect the vulnerable, elderly and disabled from feeling under pressure to end their lives because they are a burden.’