Dearbhail McDonald: Laying down guidelines will not be easy
Published 07/12/2012 | 05:00
WHEN the House of Lords ordered Britain's Director of Public Prosecutions to issue a policy setting out when people who help their loved one's to die face prosecution, it was a turning point.
It led to the release of "realistic and compassionate" prosecutorial guidelines following a legal challenge by multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy.
The 2010 UK guidelines focus on motivation and seek to draw a distinction between someone acting out of compassion to help an incurably ill but competent person to die – unlikely to face the courts – and those who persuade or pressurise a victim to kill themselves, who probably would.
Marie Fleming, pictured, wants the DPP here to set out the factors to be taken into account in deciding whether to prosecute cases of assisted suicide.
The DPP, Claire Loftus, has refused to do so, saying her office could be exposed to a charge of "aiding and abetting" in the commission of a crime.
The need for legal certainty has seen guidelines emerge in various countries. But our DPP argues the separation of powers means any guidelines must be developed by politicians.
If Ms Fleming succeeds in challenging our absolute ban on assisted suicide – and if a much more nuanced approach to so called mercy killings is approved by the courts – it will fall to the Oireachtas to lay down fresh laws.
Like implementing Ireland's limited abortion laws, that will not be easy.