First test of the new rules on assisted-suicide prosecutions

Monday 22 March 2010 at 10:20 pm | In News | Post Comment
Sir Edward Downes
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC has ruled that a criminal trial of Caractacus Downes, who took his parents to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland last summer, would be against the public interest.

The decision was the first test of the new rules on assisted-suicide prosecutions, laid down by Mr Starmer last month.

His decision means that no assisted-suicide prosecution has been brought against any of the relatives or associates of the 100-plus people who have travelled to the Zurich clinic to die.

Renowned British conductor Sir Edward Downes and his wife Joan died in the assisted suicide clinic Dignitas.  Lady Joan, 74, a ballet dancer and choreographer, was suffering from terminal cancer. She had been married for 54 years to Sir Edward, a former Principal Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.

Sir Edward, 85, while coping with near blindness, increasing deafness, and ‘the ailments of very old age’, was not dying.

Mr Downes, 42, booked a hotel room in Zurich for his parents, even though they had been able to book it themselves.
He also stood to gain ‘substantial benefit’ from the death of his parents, who owned a large house in Blackheath, south-east London.

Starmer said: ‘Mr Downes’ parents had reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision to take their own lives and in assisting them, Mr Downes was wholly motivated by compassion.’

After being instructed by the Law Lords to draw up new guidelines, Mr Starmer last month ruled that six factors would count to show a public interest against prosecution.

These were that the victim had reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision; the suspect was wholly motivated by compassion; assistance rendered was minor; the suspect tried to persuade the victim to live; the suspect was reluctant to help; and the suspect helped the police inquiry.

It is difficult to establish a difference, in practice, under the new guidelines.

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