Kathryn Lopez

In response to the court order, the United Kingdom's top prosecutor has now listed 13 types of cases in which assisted suicide should not be prosecuted. Among them are the following: "The victim had a clear, settled and informed wish to commit suicide"; "The victim indicated unequivocally to the suspect that he or she wished to commit suicide"; "The victim asked personally on his or her own initiative for the assistance of the suspect"; And "The victim had: a terminal illness; or a severe and incurable physical disability; or a severe degenerative physical condition; from which there was no possibility of recovery."

Wesley J. Smith, an associate director of the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, calls the new guidelines "an astonishing abandonment of the most weak and vulnerable in society."

Before the court order, U.K. residents had been making use of liberal laws in Switzerland, where those seeking what they call a "dignified" end have resorted to a Zurich-based suicide clinic by the name of Dignitas. According to reports, about 115 U.K. citizens have obtained aid in killing themselves there. This summer, that number included a renowned orchestra conductor and his wife; she had terminal cancer and he was blind.

In the coming weeks, U.K. physician Michael Irwin may face court proceedings for providing money for a man with pancreatic cancer to travel to the clinic. As the law stands, Irwin could be prosecuted for "encouraging" the suicide by helping pay for it. Irwin is hoping for a legal fight. Commenting on the loosened guidelines, he expressed his desire to battle for more: "The ideal form of assisted suicide is doctor-assisted, but who is going to give out the medication in the U.K.? This means people will still want to go to Switzerland. I want Parliament to change the law so that doctors can openly help people."

Considering the direction of the guidelines, Dignitas London (or something closer to home) may not be too far away. What's stopping it, once it's been determined that those who suffer -- a remarkably broad category -- are not really worthy of protection -- even from themselves?


Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.