British health expert backs legalisation of assisted suicide
Call for parliamentary vote on issue
Published 29/08/2011 | 05:00
Terminally ill patients who want to commit suicide should be able to receive medical help to die, a British government adviser on care for the elderly has said.
Martin Green, a social care expert for the Department of Health, said patients who were too frail to take their own lives were being denied "choice" and "autonomy" because assisted suicide is illegal in the UK.
In an interview with an English newspaper, he suggested that a referendum or a free vote in parliament should be called to settle policy on the issue."If you're going to give people 'choice', it should extend to whether or not they want to die," he said. "If people have got the capacity to make an informed choice then it is my view that they should be allowed to make the informed choice."
His remarks were welcomed by campaigners calling for a change in the law but will add to concerns among disability charities and Christian groups who fear that legalising assisted suicide would put elderly and disabled people under pressure to end their lives.
Mr Green, the chief executive of the English Community Care Association, which represents nursing and care home groups, is one of the country's leading experts on support for the elderly.
His comments follow a series of high-profile cases in which terminally ill patients have sought help from relatives to commit suicide, or have travelled to the Dignitas suicide clinic in Switzerland.
Last year, the Director of Public Prosecutions published revised guidelines that detailed factors making the prosecution of family members who helped loved ones to die less likely. Chief among these was clear evidence that the suspect was motivated by compassion.
However, police investigate all cases and there is no legal protection for doctors or other professionals who assist a suicide.
Mr Green said that while the NHS and social care systems were organised around the "mantra of choice and control", this does not extend to terminally ill patients who want to end their suffering but are physically incapable. (© Daily Telegraph, London)