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Britain removes some hurdles to assisted suicide

New guidelines on assisted suicide clarify conditions under which those who help someone die are likely to avoid prosecution.

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Britain took a cautious but distinct step toward sanctioning assisted suicide today when the country's top prosecutor outlined rules under which people helping others to die might escape punishment.

Responding to growing calls for legal clarity on an emotive issue that is becoming increasingly at issue in aging societies, the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, set out conditions under which it might be acceptable for relatives to help sick loved ones to their death.

Groups in favor of legalizing assisted suicide immediately hailed the new guidelines as a sensible blueprint that would differentiate between those who act with compassion to help someone die when they want, and those who maliciously encourage someone to kill themselves. But sanctity-of-life advocates warned it could prove the thin end of the wedge.

Like most other European countries, Britain takes a dim view of anyone helping people commit suicide, regardless of circumstances. Technically, it is a crime punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

Ruling out minors, profit motive

But Mr. Starmer's guidance outlines a series of conditions under which prosecution will now be less likely. These include cases where the victim had a terminal illness, had a "clear, settled and informed wish" to die, and in which the helper was a spouse or close relative.

Prosecutions will be more likely, on the other hand, if the victim was a minor, or the helper was not motivated by compassion and stood to profit financially from the death.

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