Comment: euthanasia and the DPP’s interim guidance on assisted suicide

Is it possible to have a system of not prosecuting those who commit certain acts of assisted suicide but to have no such system operating for those (with similar motivations, in similar circumstances etc.) who commit murder? While there is a relevant distinction between the Gilderdale and Inglis cases (the apparent absence of a request in the Inglis case), it is hard to see why it is in the public interest to prosecute Mrs Gilderdale for attempted murder but (under the DPP’s new Interim Guidance) would not have been in the public interest to prosecute her for assisting a suicide.

If the explanation is simply that the House of Lords in Purdy was only dealing with assisted suicide and that’s why the DPP’s Interim Guidance only covers assisted suicide, this would leave open an argument based on the right to equality if the individual is unable to commit suicide with assistance. Such an argument was successfully made in one of the assisted suicide cases in the US:

“in some instances, the patient may be unable to self-administer the drugs and that administration by the physician, or a person acting under his direction or control, may be the only way the patient may be able to receive them.” Compassion in Dying v. Washington (1996) 79 F.3d 790, 832 (9th Cir. en banc).

A similar argument was made at the Supreme Court of Canada by Chief Justice Lamer, dissenting, in Rodriguez v. British Columbia (Attorney-General) [1993] 3 S.C.R. 519, [234] .

The DPP has today defended his decision on the basis of the seriousness of the charge of attempted murder.

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