THE CATHOLIC HERALD
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November 27 2009 £1.20 (Republic of Ireland €1.70)
Bishops: chief prosecutor is ignoring will of Parliament on assisted suicide
BY SIMON CALDWELL AND ANDREW M BROWN
THE BISHOPS of England and Wales have accused Britain’s chief prosecutor of encouraging people to break the country’s suicide laws.
They said Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), was creating categories of people whose lives would be legally considered less worthy of protection than those of others in society.
The bishops said his interim policy for prosecutors in cases of assisted suicide stigmatised the disabled and the mentally and terminally ill and could send out the message that it was acceptable to help such people to kill themselves.
Mr Starmer was exceeding his powers by ignoring the will of Parliament, they said, which has rejected two attempts in the last 18 months to change the law on assisted suicide and euthanasia.
“A sick or disabled person’s life should merit the same degree of protection by law,” said the bishops in a submission to the public consultation into the draft proposals, which they made public on Friday last week.
“Given the clear view that Parliament has expressed on the issue, the inclusion in the guidance of the categories of terminal and generative illness and incurable disability as conditions that weigh against prosecution oversteps the role of the Director of Public Prosecutions.”
They said: “The inclusion of certain categories of victim – such as persons with disability – and certain categories of relationship, such as a spouse or unpaid carer, as weighing against prosecution is highly misleading and could encourage criminal behaviour.”
The bishops argued that the inclusion of a “victim’s determina-
Archbishop Vincent Nichols, left, has found himself in stark disagreement with Keir Starmer, right, over assisted suicide guidelines
tion to commit suicide” as a factor against prosecution was wrong because it might be a “sign of depression or some other underlying mental disorder, and hence a factor in favour of prosecution”.
“They are categories irrelevant to weighing up public interest in prosecution and they give the impression of a change in the law outside of and in contradiction to the recent explicit expression of the will of Parliament,” they said.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols of
Westminster told a London press conference that the bishops thought the guidance “runs the risk of creating categories of people who are given less protection in the law and... seeing those categories of people as less worthy of the protection of the law”.
David Jones, Professor of Bioethics at St Mary’s University College, London, and an adviser to the bishops, told the press conference that the sections referring to disability and family relationships
“need to be taken out”. “There is a suggestion that being a spouse as such is a reason not to be prosecuted,” he said. “In the context of domestic violence we no longer think that. We shouldn’t say that purely the family relationship should be a reason. We have to say something about the reality of the situation.”
The “interim policy for prosecutors”, published in September, set out the circumstances in which a prosecution under the 1961 Sui-
cide Act is likely or unlikely. Under the guidance, someone assisting in a suicide is likely to face prosecution if the “victim” is under 18, had a mental illness or was in good physical health. They will also be prosecuted if they assist in more than one case or were paid for their assistance. Although the clarification does not guarantee anyone immunity from prosecution, it says a criminal action is unlikely to be brought if the victim had a grave illness or disability,
Mazur/Baranik/CCN and PA
was determined to kill themselves and was aided by a close friend or relative of a helper who was motivated by compassion. Mr Starmer was ordered to produce the guidance following a July ruling in the House of Lords in a case brought by Debbie Purdy, a multiple sclerosis sufferer.
Miss Purdy demanded to know if her husband would be prosecuted if he helped her to travel to the Dignitas euthanasia clinic in Switzerland to commit suicide.
In an interview with The Catholic Herald, which will be published in full next week, he rejected the bishops’ accusations and defended his draft guidelines. He insisted he had not exceeded his powers. “Everybody who says Parliament has already expressed its view needs to be absolutely clear as to what that view is,” he said. “Parliament passed the 1961 act which criminalised assisted suicide but it also put within the same statute the requirement for the DPP’s consent. It did that because it recognised that not every case should be prosecuted to trial.”
He said: “A review of the cases that we’ve had to consider in the last few years demonstrates that often these cases involved individuals with a terminal illness and what goes with the terminal illness is the clear and settled intention to commit suicide. These guidelines are intended to protect the vulnerable from pressures from others who may have something to gain through their suicide. We’re absolutely determined that protection should be there in the guidelines. If that message isn’t clear enough then obviously we need to go back and think again.”
He said he was instructed clearly by the House of Lords to draw up a list of categories.
Mr Starmer said: “What was not open to me was to respond to the House of Lords by simply saying I will decide each case on its individual facts, end of policy, because that was precisely the position that the House of Lords said wasn’t good enough. They said ‘we need to know the sort of factors that are taken into account’.
“I accept that it cannot be guaranteed that because you’re a spouse or close family member, your intention is necessarily good,” he said. “If there’s an element of gain, a prosecution is likely, even if you’re a close relative.”
Pope Benedict plans to beatify Newman during visit to Britain
BY SIMON CALDWELL
THE POPE is to waive his own rules so he can preside in person over the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman during a papal visit to Britain next year, according to sources close to the Vatican.
Pope Benedict XVI will personally take charge of the ceremony to declare the Victorian convert Blessed when he visits England in early September at the invitation of Gordon Brown.
The Pope has previously insisted that all beatifications are carried out by a Vatican official in the diocese in which the candidate died, which in Newman’s case is Birmingham.
But because the Pope has such a strong devotion to Cardinal Newman and his theological writings he has decided to break his own rules and beatify the cardinal himself.
Nichols of Westminster refused to either confirm or deny the report: “The details of the
Pope’s visit are far from clear,” he said. “What is clear is that the Holy Father has a great and long-standing devotion to Cardinal Newman and the beatification of Cardinal Newman is due.”
Fr Ian Ker, author of the definitive biography of Cardinal Newman, said: “By breaking his own rules Pope Benedict clearly shows he regards Newman as a completely exceptional case, one of the great theologians of the Catholic Church. Many of the popes
have been anxious to canonise Newman. They look to him as a man who welcomed modernisation but in fidelity to Church authority and in continuity with the traditions of the Church.”
Pope Benedict announced the beatification in July after Vatican theologians ruled that the inexplicable healing of Jack Sullivan, an American with a severe spinal condition, was a miracle brought about by praying for help to Cardinal Newman.
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Devout Catholic is Official condemns named EU president new vampire film
BY ANNA ARCO
A JESUIT-EDUCATED Catholic has been appointed to serve as the European Union’s first permanent president.
Belgium’s Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy was selected for the post of European president after an EU summit last week. Mr Van Rompuy is known to attend monthly retreats at a Benedictine monastery and his wife
has said that she is impressed by the strength he can draw from his faith.
Mr Van Rompuy is an ardent federalist but is opposed to Turkey joining the European Union on the basis that it does not share Europe’s Christian heritage.
He once said: “Turkey is not a part of Europe and will never be part of Europe. The universal values which are in force in Europe, and which are fundamental values of Christianity, will lose vigour with the entry of a large Islamic country such as Turkey.”
BY ED WEST
A VATICAN official has condemned Hollywood vampire film The Twilight Saga: New Moon as “dangerous” and morally empty.
The film tells the story of a teenage girl called Bella who falls in love with Edward Cullen, right, a member of a family of moral vampires who eat only animal rather than human meat. But Mgr Franco
Perazzolo of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Cul-
ture said it contained “an
explosive mix” of good-looking protagonists dabbling in the supernatural and added: “The film’s oc-
‘moral void more dangerous than any
Sophie Caldecott: Page 9
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