Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Duty to Die: Part 2

In The Duty to Die, there was a comment on the article and interview of Helen Mary Warnock, Baroness Warnock, DBE, FBA when on 17th and 18th September 2008, she was reported to have called for elderly people suffering from dementia should consider ending their lives because they are a burden on the NHS and their families.

It seemed rather strange and to come out of the blue.

Then I noticed today that on 17th September 2008, the Ministry of Justice Press Office issued a news release that the law on assisting suicide is to be simplified to increase public understanding and reassure people that it applies as much on the internet as it does off-line.

"Following a review of the Suicide Act 1961, the government has decided to reframe it in new, modern language that will make it easier for individual internet users and internet-based businesses, such as Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to understand. "

In England and Wales, suicide ceased to be a crime in 1961 but under section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961, it remains an offence to 'aid, abet, counsel or procure' a suicide or a suicide attempt. The law applies equally to online and off-line actions.

In a small footnote to the press release it is stated that "The precise proposals on how to update the language of the legislation will be published a soon as parliamentary time allows. The scope of the law will remain unchanged."

If you look at the Suicide Act 1961 you will see that it is not a very complicated piece of legislation. On the face of it, the Act especially section 2, would appear to be a model of brevity and clarity.

The Law Commission in July 2006 produced a Report Inchoate Liability for Assisting and Encouraging Crime

In Schedule B of the Report (pages 170 and following), the Law Commission said that the existing law was perfecly adequate to deal with the cases of suicide websites.

"B.26 Therefore, the contemporary problems posed by suicide websites and other involvements in the suicide of another could adequately be addressed without reform to section 2 of the Suicide Act." (emphasis added)

If the present law has been deemed perfectly adequate to deal with the case of suicide websites, why does it need to reform the law to simply make clear what is already the position?

Can the Ministry of Justice not simply write/e-mail ISPs and make clear the position by advertising ?

Or is there going to be another attempt to alter the substance of the existing law and make it easier for the provision of euthanasia ?

One hopes that legislators and peers who feel strongly about the right to life are vigilant about this legislation coming from the fag end of this Government.

And that the Baroness Warnock was simply flying a kite on her own initiative, without any encouragement or support from the Government.