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Starmer was forced to clar­ify the as­sisted sui­cide guide­lines by the House of Lords, act­ing on be­half of mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis suf­ferer Debbie Purdy, who wants her hus­band to be able to help her end her life at a time of her choos­ing without fac­ing po­ten­tial prose­cu­tion.

She said the new guide­lines, which take ef­fect im­me­di­ately, would help her end her life when that time comes. Still, Purdy said an en­tirely new law gov­ern­ing as­sisted sui­cide is needed to re­place the ex­ist­ing law writ­ten nearly 50 years ago.

“He has been able to dif­fer­en­ti­ate clearly be­tween ma­li­cious in­tent and com­pas­sion­ate sup­port,” she said of the chief pros­e­cu­tor. “But I think we need a new law be­cause in­ter­pre­ta­tion and tweak­ing of the 1961 sui­cide act will never be enough.”

She said tribunals should be es­tab­lished to study in­di­vid­ual cases be­fore a per­son commits sui­cide so fam­ily mem­bers and close friends can know where they stand legally be­fore they take any action to as­sist in the sui­cide.

This is the view of Terry Pratch­ett, a well-loved Bri­tish au­thor suf­fer­ing from early on­set Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

“I would like to see death as a med­i­cal pro­ce­dure — in very care­fully cho­sen cases,” said Pratch­ett, 61, who be­lieves he should be able to legally end his life be­fore the rav­ages of the dis­ease leaves him help­less.

Starmer stressed that he was not de­crim­i­nal­iz­ing as­sisted sui­cide or mod­i­fy­ing the law on mercy killings, which have been the fo­cus of in­tense me­dia at­ten­tion with the claim last week by a BBC tele­vi­sion per­son­al­ity that he had killed his part­ner, who was gravely ill with AIDS.

But he said prose­cu­tion would be less likely in cases where the sus­pect was act­ing out of com­pas­sion.

He said other fac­tors would also make crim­i­nal charges less likely, in­clud­ing vic­tims who had made a vol­un­tary and in­formed de­ci­sion to end their lives, sus­pects who re­ported the sui­cide to po­lice and ad­mit­ted their role, and cases where a sus­pect tried in vain to con­vince the vic­tim not to choose sui­cide.

Other mit­i­gat­ing fac­tors that might make prose­cu­tion less likely in­clude in­stances where the sus­pect pro­vided only mi­nor help in the sui­cide or was re­luc­tant to pro­vide as­sis­tance but did so in the face of per­sis­tent de­mands.

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