LONDON, May 12, 2011 ( – A euthanasia advocacy group has announced it will open a suicide hotline – but one unlike any other suicide hotline that currently exists, which typically offer a sympathetic ear and seek to convince those brought to the brink of despair not to take their own lives.

Compassion in Dying, an offshoot of the campaign group Dignity in Dying, said that it will instead be setting up the telephone line that will dispense information for those wishing to commit suicide on their legal rights. It will be “dedicated to supporting patients, loved ones and carers through the dying process, promoting greater patient choice and control where possible,” the group said.

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Compassion in Dying, denied that the hotline would give out detailed information on how to commit suicide. She said, “The End of Life Rights Line will only deal with questions around existing rights and choices at the end of life – it will not provide information on how to end life. Neither Compassion in Dying nor Dignity in Dying provides this type of information.”

In related news, two legal expert members of the House of Lords, Lord Alexander Carlile and Baroness Ilora Finlay, issued a report this week warning that if assisted suicide is legalized, lethal drugs would likely become available over the counter.

“There is no reason why, if assisted dying were ever to be legalised, lethal drugs could not be prescribed by a physician, nurse or pharmacist, acting outside the parameters of health care.”

In jurisdictions where assisted suicide and euthanasia are legalized, advocates have normally pointed to “safeguards” in the law that they say restrict the practice to the terminally ill. But anti-euthanasia activists have long warned that such safeguards quickly become ineffective in practice, and are often simply ignored. Recent studies in Belgium and the Netherlands have shown that doctors administering euthanasia now routinely do so without the consent of patients or family members. 

Carlile and Finlay warned in their report, “Embedding ‘assisted dying’ in health care could easily encourage patients who are less than wholehearted about the project to suppose that it is like any other medical treatment, that it is being offered for their good and that, notwithstanding any reservations they may feel about it, it is probably for the best – otherwise why would any doctor agree to proceed with it?”

Currently, while assisting a suicide in Britain remains illegal, and theoretically punishable by up to 14 years in prison, authorities have said they will not prosecute cases where “loved ones” have “helped” someone to die. In September 2009, Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales, Keir Starmer, announced that there would be no prosecutions in “those cases where nobody really thinks it’s in the public interest to prosecute.”

Since the publication of the new guidelines, at least 20 cases of assisted suicide have been deemed not worthy of prosecution.

Yesterday, police in South Tyneside announced that a man and woman arrested in connection with another known assisted suicide would not be charged.

The BBC reports that 76-year-old Douglas Sinclair, who was suffering from multiple system atrophy, traveled to the Dignitas suicide facility in Zurich, Switzerland with the pair, and died there on 28 July 2010. The man and woman, who have not been named, were arrested, but police said that no further action will be taken in the case.

Sinclair, a retired engineer, had been living in a care facility and had repeatedly told doctors and social workers that he wanted to go to Switzerland to commit suicide, his lawyer Christopher Potts told media.

The man and woman were arrested in September, 2010, police said, “on suspicion of intentionally doing an act to assist or encourage suicide following the death of a 76-year-old man in Switzerland.”


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