Page last updated at 13:38 GMT, Saturday, 29 August 2009 14:38 UK

Police chief's suicide law worry

Barbara Wilding
Barbara Wilding is Britain's most senior policewoman

A chief constable has warned any change in the law on assisted suicide must not become a way for families with elderly relatives to get rid of a "burden".

Barbara Wilding, of South Wales Police, told a newspaper police would have to be "very careful" to make sure it "does not become a way of getting rid of a burden".

It comes as policy over prosecutions of aiding suicide is being examined.

Ms Wilding said she would watch any change in legislation "very carefully".

'Growing intolerance'

"From a policing perspective we need to be very careful on this to make sure it does not become a way of getting rid of a burden," she told the Daily Telegraph.

The director of public prosecutions and head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Keir Starmer QC, is working on policy to clarify whether people should be prosecuted for aiding a suicide following a landmark ruling by the Law Lords.

Multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy, 46, from Bradford, brought a case against the head of the CPS to seek a guarantee her husband would not be charged should he help her commit suicide with the right-to-die organisation Dignitas in Switzerland.

It has been reported that Mr Starmer's guidelines would apply to people who helped loved ones die in Britain as well as those who travelled abroad.


More than 100 Britons, mostly terminally ill, have died at Dignitas. Its founder has defended helping people to die, saying it was "a very good possibility to escape a situation which you can't alter".

Under the 1961 Suicide Act covering England and Wales, those who aid, abet, counsel or procure someone else's suicide can be prosecuted and sentenced to serve up to 14 years in jail.

Baroness Ilora Finlay of Llandaff, a professor in palliative medicine at Cardiff University, said she agreed with Ms Wilding's caution.

"You have to remember that when people are ill it is very, very easy to influence the way that they feel about themselves," she said.

"If someone is made to feel that they being a nuisance to the NHS, a nuisance to the state and their families are huffing and puffing, perhaps about care costs, perhaps because they want to have a little bit of inheritance, then that person could feel that not only are they a burden but they have a duty to die."

Ms Wilding, 59, who retires in December, also told the Telegraph of a "rift" between people under 25 and those over 50 "who only have to see young people on the street and they call it anti-social behaviour".

"This growing intolerance and fear of young people has not been helped by the 'tough on crime' political views," she said.

"Every party has been 'tougher' than the last one and young people seem to be the butt of it."

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