Pressure for new laws on assisted suicide to prevent 'botched' deaths

THE law on assisted suicide could lead to the worst possible "botched" death and must be changed, an inquiry heard yesterday.

Current guidelines, issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions last year, are "particularly bad", creating confusion and uncertainty, Baroness Warnock said.

While amateurs are allowed to help someone to die, she argued the complex procedure of mercy killing should only be carried out by qualified medical professionals.

Her remarks came as Lord Falconer's inquiry into assisted dying heard evidence on the controversial debate. They follow a call for an updated law clearly stating which acts are criminal and which are not. At the moment, anyone acting with compassion to help end the life of someone who has decided they cannot go on is unlikely to face criminal charges.

Some travel to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to end their life.

After she gave evidence, Lady Warnock, 86, said: "I think that only doctors and nurses can secure a safe death."

Earlier, Dignity in Dying chief executive Sarah Wootton said the 1961 Suicide Act was "no longer fit for purpose" and guidelines brought in after the case of right-to-die campaigner Debbie Purdy, of Bradford, needed be replaced.

Keir Starmer QC issued new guidelines in February after multiple sclerosis sufferer Ms Purdy won a landmark ruling at the House of Lords on the issue.

The Commission on Assisted Dying, an independent inquiry being held at the London headquarters of think-tank Demos, is considering what system, if any, should exist to allow people to be helped to die and whether changes should be introduced to the law.

Assisted suicide remains a criminal offence in England and Wales, punishable by up to 14 years in prison, but individual decisions on prosecution will be made on the circumstances of each case.

Ms Purdy wanted to know what would happen to her Cuban husband, Omar Puente, if he helped her travel abroad to end her life.