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Humanists UK calls for compassion in cases of ‘mercy killings’ and suicide pacts

Humanists UK has responded to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)’s consultation on ‘mercy killings’ and failed suicide pacts. The CPS sought the public’s views on updating legal guidance on homicide. This would assist prosecutors considering the public interest when dealing with suspects in deaths arising out of failed suicide pacts and so-called ‘mercy killings’. In its response, Humanists UK argued for suspects to be treated with empathy and compassion.

This consultation is not designed to change the law, only to provide clear advice to prosecutors and the police. In 2009, assisted dying campaigner Debbie Purdy won a landmark case to clarify the law on assisted dying and forced the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to lay out clear guidance. The current consultation examines whether to bring guidance on ‘mercy killing’ and suicide pacts in line with that guidance on encouraging or assisting a suicide.

Humanists UK’s response outlines 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.

Humanists UK Assisted Dying Campaigner Nathan Stilwell said:

‘In the absence of a law that allows compassionate, safeguarded, assisted dying, it is often not in the public interest to prosecute people involved in “mercy killings” or suicide pacts. The current blanket ban on assisted dying further exacerbates this situation, as many people won’t be able to see any other options.

‘Although this guidance is to be welcomed, only an assisted dying law would introduce strong safeguards, an additional level of personal autonomy, and could stop everyday people potentially resorting to traumatic mercy killings or suicide pacts. Robust safeguards under the law are the only way to protect our most vulnerable.’


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read our response to the Mercy Killing Consultation.

Read the consultation.

Read more about our campaign to legalise assisted dying in the UK.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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