Posted on 16th January 2020

David Keane, police and crime commissioner (PCC) for Cheshire, has lent his support to a new national campaign calling for an urgent review into the UK’s assisted dying laws.

The campaign by Dignity in Dying, Compassion is Not a Crime, is also backed by Ann Whaley, Mavis Eccleston and others who have been criminalised by current laws.

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Ann, 77, from Buckinghamshire, was investigated by police after an anonymous call alerted social services of her plan to accompany her terminally ill husband Geoffrey, 80, to Dignitas in February 2019.

Mavis Eccleston, 80, from Staffordshire, was charged with the murder and manslaughter of her husband Dennis, 81, after he ended his own life at home in February 2018 while dying of bowel cancer. Mavis, who had attempted to overdose at the same time, was resuscitated and later charged. A jury unanimously found her not guilty on both counts following a trial at Stafford Crown Court in September 2019.

The campaign calls on the Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland, to launch an inquiry into functioning and impact of the current legislation.

David Keane, PCC for Cheshire, said: “In October I wrote to the Justice Secretary alongside 17 fellow Police and Crime Commissioners to express our misgivings with the current law on assisted dying, which has undeniably caused distress, confusion and pain for terminally ill people, their loved ones and even the investigating police officers themselves.

“We are concerned that current legislation merely drives assisted deaths overseas or underground, that it does not offer adequate protection to potentially vulnerable people, and that it is near-impossible to enforce in most cases. Law-enforcers have an important perspective to offer, and I hope law-makers will provide an opportunity for us to share our views.”

Among the PCCs writing to the Justice Secretary was the former Police and Crime Commissioner for Durham, Ron Hogg, who died of motor neurone disease in December 2019. Ron used his final months to call for reform on assisted dying.

Former Justice Secretary David Gauke expressed support for a call for evidence on assisted dying laws last year. This was backed by cross-party MPs in a Commons debate in July, during Justice Questions in October and in a joint letter later that month.

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, added: “Compassion should not be a crime, but under the UK’s blanket ban on assisted dying, it is. Not only are dying people denied the right to die on their own terms, forcing them to resort to drastic measures at home and abroad, but their family members are then criminalised for acts of love.

“An inquiry would enable the views of those most affected to be heard - terminally ill people, their loved ones, the police and other public services. We call on the Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland, to launch a call for evidence as a matter of urgency. Our outdated assisted dying laws deserve to be scrutinised, not dying people or their loving families."