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Response to the Director of Public Prosecutions’ Consultation on the interim policy for prosecutors on assisted suicide

It is essential that assisted suicide is never deemed to be acceptable or commendable, the Church of England has said in response to the Director of Public Prosecutions' consultation on an interim policy for prosecutors on assisted suicide. While some people will believe that they may best express genuine compassion by assisting a loved one to commit suicide, it says, compassion is best expressed by making every effort to dissuade them, not by assisting them.

Alongside its response, the Church of England's Mission and Public Affairs Council has today released its own draft policy, proposing changes that strengthen reference to presumption in favour of prosecution.

The response and draft policy are available online in the Protecting Life section of the Church of England website, and have been forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

The document is in two parts.

The first part reiterates the Church’s views on assisted suicide, suggesting numerous amendments to the DPP’s Interim Policy. It states: “The Church of England believes that every suicide is a tragedy and that a caring society ought to ensure that anyone considering suicide is able to have ready access to life-affirming and life-enhancing support, counselling and medical and nursing care.” It then recognises “that some people will believe that they may best express genuine compassion by assisting a loved one to commit suicide” as “an action of ‘last resort’”, and adds: “It is essential, however, that assisted suicide is never deemed to be acceptable or commendable. Aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring a suicide remains a crime and we are assured that the DPP’s guidelines are not intended to or designed to compromise this.” Having stressed the need to “take into account the victim’s personal experience”, it then states: “In deciding whether or not a prosecution is in the public interest, the over-riding concern ought to be the motivation of the suspect.”

The second part of the Response contains detailed proposed changes to the DPP's proposed Interim Policy. These changes are intended to ensure that in assessing individual cases the prosecuting authorities’ responsibility is to determine whether, on the evidence available, compassion was the sole motive, and whether it provides sufficient grounds for overriding the presumption in favour of prosecution.

The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt, said: “This substantial document reflects contributions made by a wide group of people and has been carefully debated to ensure the Church is able to explain its position with authority. I welcome this clear statement of the Church's position, supportive of the existing state of the law.”

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