Page last updated at 15:22 GMT, Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Brown against assisted dying law

Gordon Brown
Mr Brown said strong values should underpin any economy

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has told the BBC he is "totally against" changing laws on euthanasia.

Speaking to the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, he said it was not for him to create laws to "put pressure on people to end their lives".

But campaign group Dignity in Dying said it should not be a decision for the PM but for the adult themselves.

It is illegal in the UK to aid and abet a suicide and anyone convicted faces up to 14 years in prison.

More than 100 Britons are thought to have gone to die at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal, provided it has not been carried out for a profit.

Importance of life

At Prime Minister's Questions earlier this month Mr Brown said this issue was a "matter of conscience" but he said he had "always opposed legislation for assisted deaths".

In a interview with Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, a guest editor on Today, Mr Brown was asked about calls for euthanasia laws.


He replied: "Well I'm totally against laws on that. I think this debate about assisted suicide, it's not really for us to create any legislation that would put pressure on people to feel that they had to offer themselves because they were causing trouble to a relative or anything else.

"So I think we have got to make it absolutely clear that the importance of human life is recognised."

In a debate in Westminster last month, Lib Dem MP Evan Harris argued the law should be changed to make it easier for terminally ill people to die.

Strong values

He said more than 900 British people a year were forced to get illegal help to die and the consequences for them and their families could be severe.

There have so far been no prosecutions of their relatives, but the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has carried out investigations.

Earlier this month, no charges were brought against the parents of Daniel James who died at Dignitas.

It should not be for Gordon Brown or Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor to decide when a dying adult's suffering should end
James Harris
Dignity in Dying

The 23-year-old, from Worcester, was paralysed in a rugby accident and ended his life in September even though he was not terminally ill.

In October, a woman suffering from multiple sclerosis lost her High Court attempt to clarify UK law on assisted suicide.

Debbie Purdy, 45, from Bradford, has suggested that in the future she may want to travel to Dignitas to die.

She wants her husband by her side and sought clarification on whether he will be prosecuted on his return home.

But two senior judges said the current guidelines were adequate and did not require clarification.

Campaign group Dignity in Dying wants terminally ill, mentally competent adults to have the option of an assisted death, subject to legal safeguards.

Its head of campaigns, James Harris, said: "It should not be for Gordon Brown or Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor to decide when a dying adult's suffering should end, within safeguards, it should be a decision for the dying adult themselves."

He said Mr Brown was "out of step with public opinion".

"Maintaining the status quo will lead to more people travelling aboard to die, 'mercy killings' and botched and violent suicide attempts," he added.

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