WESTMINSTER, March 28, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Hopes of strengthening the law on assisted suicide in Britain became more remote last night after Parliament passed a motion “welcoming” prosecution guidelines that make it virtually impossible to convict on a charge of assisting a suicide. The uncontested passage of the motion is a clear signal that the issue of assisted suicide, at least in Parliament, is a dead letter, pro-life advocates said.

The guidelines were introduced in February 2010 by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, and said that if a person who assists a loved one to commit suicide was acting out of “compassion,” then it is not in the public interest to prosecute. For a prosecution to go forward, police must show evidence of malicious motivation and personal gain. 

Paul Tully, the general secretary of SPUC Pro-Life, said that the motion “undermines society’s protection of the most vulnerable.”

The guidance effectively decriminalizes assisted suicide, Tully said, by removing any realistic chance of prosecutions for assisting suicide.

“The DPP’s prosecuting policy has emptied the Suicide Act, which sets out the crime of assisting suicide, of its meaning and much of its force. The DPP’s policy should be rescinded or revised to ensure the right to life for all,” Tully said.

Anthony Ozimic, SPUC communications director, told LifeSiteNews that the motion makes moot any efforts to strengthen the existing law, with most MPs, even those who are generally pro-life, accepting the guidelines as an acceptable “compromise.”

“They have approved the prosecuting guidance that basically gives a free reign to anyone who wants to commit an assisted suicide,” Ozimic said. He explained that with the passage of the motion, the issue of assisted suicide is effectively shelved in Parliament, with little chance of the law being changed in either direction.

With the passage of this motion, he said, there is now not a sufficient number of MPs or Lords for a bill to be passed “to put the guidance on a statutory level or amend the Suicide Act.”

“We have faced great difficulties getting MPs to be interested in this issue,” he added.

The problem, Ozimic said, is that the guidance represents a “radical shift” in approach to evidence. Under the former rules, police looked at the person’s act: was he acting to help a person commit suicide? Under Starmer’s new guidelines, the onus of proof is shifted onto demonstrating the person’s motivation, whether he was acting out of a subjective feeling of compassion or of malice, not upon the evidence of the act itself.

“How do you prove or disprove that someone was acting out of compassion? It’s impossible,” Ozimic said. “The person can just say ‘I was wholly motivated by compassion’ and that’s the end of it. How do you disprove that?”

A large part of the danger of the guidelines, he said, is its naïveté. “It assumes that we live in a world full of well-meaning relatives and people with no vested interests. No one wants to kill a relative for personal gain or any other factors than compassion.”

Ozimic said that the euthanasia movement in Parliament has hit a plateau, getting more support from the media and celebrity endorsers like Sir Terry Pratchett than from MPs, Lords or the medical community. Simply, he said, “the current situation will just continue,” with the law having been made effectively meaningless.