CPS seeks end to prosecutions of compassionate mercy killings

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has updated its guidance on mercy killings and suicide pacts today to reflect that there is no public interest in prosecuting individuals who end the life of someone who has made ‘a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision that they wished for their life to end.’ Humanists UK is calling for a compassionate assisted dying law that would prevent individuals from needing to go to drastic and traumatic measures to end the lives of their loved ones if they are incurably and intolerably suffering.

The CPS published its updated prosecution guidance following a 12-week public consultation in April 2022. Humanists UK responded to the consultation by outlining how there are many broad similarities between assisted dying, mercy killings, and suicide pacts.

All three typically include the subject seeking an end to physical suffering, all include them wanting the autonomy to choose the manner, timing, and method of their own death, and all will include at some point close friends or family members. As humanists fundamentally believe in taking a compassionate, empathetic, and evidence-based approach to both life and death, Humanists UK argued that modern laws should reflect that ethos and prosecution should only be made in the public interest.

The guidance has now been refined to assist prosecutors in considering the public interest when dealing with suspects in deaths arising out of ‘mercy killings’ and failed suicide pacts.

The amendments to public interest factors against prosecution include:

The victim had reached a voluntary, clear, settled, and informed decision that they wished for their life to end.

The actions of the suspect may be characterised as reluctant, in the face of significant emotional pressure due to the victim’s wish for their life to end.

Last year a UK coroner said suicide pacts and mercy killings were increasingly common in the absence of a compassionate assisted dying law.

The Health and Social Care Committee is currently running an inquiry into assisted dying and is due to publish its report before the end of the year.

Encouraging or assisting suicide is a crime with a maximum penalty of 14 years. Prosecutions are rare and there is guidance for prosecutors.

Humanists UK Assisted Dying Campaigner Nathan Stilwell said:

‘It’s overwhelmingly clear that there is no public interest in prosecuting innocent people who are forced to take drastic and traumatic measures just to give their loved one the compassionate choice that they want at the end of their lives.

‘We hope that soon people in the UK who are terminally ill or intolerably suffering will have the rights they deserve and be able to make choices at the end of their lives. No one should be forced into suicide pacts and mercy killings when we know from abroad that assisted dying laws can be compassionate, safe, and work.’