By Steve Doughty
Outrage as ‘how-to-die helpline’ is launched by euthanasia charity
A right-to-die pressure group provoked outrage yesterday over plans to sponsor the UK’s first helpline aimed at speeding the terminally ill towards ‘a good death’.
The free phone line, to be set up by a charity called Compassion in Dying, will ‘promote greater patient choice and control where possible’.
The charity is an offshoot of euthanasia campaign Dignity in Dying and is led by the right-to-die group’s chief executive Sarah Wootton, a former sex equality and abortion campaigner.
Its plan to provide the desperately sick with advice on how to end their lives sparked protests from anti-euthanasia activists, who said the helpline would be used to shorten lives.
The charity says it exists to exploit ‘existing end-of-life rights’ and will pass on information to callers.
However, it comes against a background of growing tolerance of assisted suicide by prosecution authorities, increasing political pressure for the legalisation of assisted dying, and a rising toll of Britons travelling to the Dignitas suicide clinic in Switzerland to end their lives.
The charity said the helpline would be ‘dedicated to supporting patients, loved ones and carers through the dying process, promoting greater patient choice and control where possible’.
Elspeth Chowdharay-Best of the pressure group Alert said: ‘Dignity in Dying used to call itself the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.
‘The aim of the helpline exercise is to shorten people’s lives.’
Alistair Thompson, a spokesman for Care Not Killing, said: ‘All the information anybody needs is already easily available.
‘The question is, why is an offshoot of a euthanasia pressure group providing these services at the end of a phone line, for free?
‘Surely what people need is independent advice and information, not the help of a group dedicated to assisted dying.’
Helping someone commit suicide is a crime which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in jail.
Guidelines on prosecutions produced last year by Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer suggested that there will be no future prosecutions of individuals who help loved ones die out of compassion and do not stand to benefit themselves.
But Mr Starmer’s rules still say that people from organisations and campaign groups, or medical professionals, who help people to die should face criminal charges.