Page last updated at 17:52 GMT, Tuesday, 27 March 2012 18:52 UK

Assisted suicide debate: part one

MPs began debate on a backbench business motion on assisted suicide on 27 March 2012.

The motion welcomed the Director of Public Prosecution's Policy to Prosecutors in Respect of Cases of Encouraging or Assisting Suicide, which was published in February 2010.

The 1961 Suicide Act makes it an offence to encourage or assist the suicide or attempted suicide of another person, punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) must give consent before an individual can be prosecuted.

Opening the debate, Conservative MP Richard Ottaway, whose motion was supported by 15 MPs from different political parties, acknowledged it is a sensitive area of law which "evokes deep emotions".

Mr Ottaway emphasised that "assisted suicide will remain a criminal offence" and that MPs were not being asked to express a view on voluntary euthanasia - which would entail changing the law on murder - but expressed sympathy for people who may wish to end a loved one's suffering.

Labour MP Dame Joan Ruddock, introducing her amendment inviting the government to consult on whether to put the DPP's guidance on a statutory basis, said: "For myself, I have always known that in compelling circumstances I would assist a loved one to die."

She added: "That is why I think it is so important the DPP's policy be placed in statute."

For the government, Solicitor General Edward Garnier said he viewed statutory guidelines as a risk to the independence of prosecutors.

Later, Labour MP Frank Field attacked some colleagues, suggesting that there was "a debate that dare not enter its name on the order paper: euthanasia".

He warned MPs would "mislead" themselves and "look foolish" to voters if they allowed themselves to think that the country was entirely populated by loving husbands and wives with their loved ones' best interests at heart.

"Sadly we do not live in the Garden of Eden - we've been expelled," he said.

Conservative MP Edward Leigh argued that "we must never allow old people in this country to feel that they are a burden".

Mr Leigh said he was "opposed to euthanasia in any shape or form" but regarded the guidelines as "a fair compromise".

Another amendment, supported by more than 85 MPs, called for "further development of specialist palliative care and hospice provision".

Watch part two of the debate here .


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