CPS consults on compassionate ‘mercy killings’

18 January, 2022

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has launched a consultation on proposed changes to its ‘Homicide: Murder and Manslaughter’ Guidance. This seeks to make it less likely for those involved with suicide pacts or ‘mercy killings’ to be prosecuted if there are relevant public interest factors such as the person had reached a ‘voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision to end their life’.  Humanists UK welcomes the consultation and calls for a compassionate approach in consideration of prosecution in these distressing circumstances. However, it notes that the proposed reforms will not fix the wider problem of these situations arising and calls for the introduction of a compassionate assisted dying law to afford freedom of choice to those of sound mind who are terminally ill or incurably suffering.

Currently, the CPS guidance states that ‘a prosecution is almost certainly required, even in cases such as a ‘mercy killing’ of a sick relative’. The proposed new guidance would recognise a difference between homicide, suicide pact cases, and ‘mercy killings’ in determining whether a prosecution is required in the public interest. The proposed reforms would still require individuals to report themselves to the police, undergo a full investigation into the situation at an extremely traumatic time, and would not automatically avoid prosecution.

Humanists UK Assisted Dying Campaigner Kathy Riddick commented:

‘We welcome this consultation as a measure to protect those who have been forced into the very worst circumstances due to our country’s prohibitive laws on assisted dying. But while the proposed changes to the guidance could help a small number of people who have been or will be placed in an unimaginable situation, it does not address the wider concerns of many who want choice over the end of their lives.

‘It is only by legalising assisted dying for the terminally ill and incurably suffering that people’s choice, dignity, and autonomy can be respected at the end of life. This guidance must not be seen as an alternative to changing the law.’



For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 020 3675 0959.

Read more about our work on assisted dying.

Read the CPS consultation.

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