Britain: No prosecution for right-to-die doctor

Description: [of the article from the BBC]

The report begins: A former GP and right-to-die campaigner who took a man to a euthanasia group in Switzerland will not be prosecuted. Dr Michael Irwin, 79, of Surrey, was arrested after cancer sufferer Raymond Cutkelvin, of London, died at Dignitas in Zurich.

But on Friday, Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer said while there was enough evidence to prosecute, it would not be in the public interest. Mr Cutkelvin's partner, who accompanied him, will also not face prosecution. Mr Cutkelvin was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer in 2006. He died the following year at Dignitas aged 58. In a statement, Mr Starmer said Mr Cutkelvin had "reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed wish to commit suicide".

On the decision about Michael Irwin:
The DPP said the circumstances of Dr Irwin's involvement were more complex, but he also should not be charged. Dr Irwin claims to have taken three terminally-ill people to Dignitas and personally paid 1,500 pounds towards Mr Cutkelvin's procedure there. Both of these factors could be seen to support prosecution, the DPP said.

Mr Starmer also said that during his career Dr Irwin was "motivated by a strong belief that the law on assisted suicide is wrong" and it should be acceptable to help someone to die. And he noted that Dr Irwin was struck off the medical register in 2005 and received a caution for possessing a fatal dose of barbiturates that he intended to supply to a doctor friend.

Despite these factors, however, the DPP said: "Dr Irwin did not act for personal gain; did not put pressure on Mr Cutkelvin; and did not take an active part in the suicide itself." His advanced age and the fact that he was motivated "at least in part by personal sympathy" all supported the decision not to prosecute, Mr Starmer added.

Reacting to the decision, Dr Irwin said he was relieved the matter was now resolved, but wanted to keep the issue of the "two-tier system in this country" in the spotlight. "If you have got money and are terminally ill, you can go to Switzerland for assisted suicide," he said. "But if you have not got money, you are stuck here and possibilities and outcomes remain uncertain. "The law should be changed to make it possible to be fair, for it to be out in the open and transparent."

[There is information in the Notes section below.]
[There are other related stories in the Links section below.]
[There are stories in the Overflow section below.]


To read the full article click on one of these links, both of which go to the same destination. A short link is provided for the convenience of readers. Also, readers may search and browse past and future advisories on the web (see bottom.)



    Also see:

  • Britain: "Dr Death" won't be charged over assisted suicide [The Independent]
    After reviewing the circumstances around the DPP's decision not to prosecute Michael Irwin, this report ends with: Sarah Wootton, of Dignity in Dying, said: "Dignity in Dying believe that people should not be forced to take the law into their own hands to have what they consider to be a dignified death. "Furthermore, terminally ill adults suffering at the end of life should not have to travel abroad to die.

    "The decision not to prosecute either Mr Rees or Dr Irwin demonstrates that following the Director of Public Prosecutions' guidelines on assisting a suicide, compassionate assistance to die is unlikely to result in a prosecution. "However, Parliament cannot continue to bury its heads in the sand and pretend that people are not taking drastic and sometimes dangerous decisions. "Not only are Britons travelling abroad to die, but here in the UK terminally ill patients, their loved ones and their doctors are taking matters into their own hands."

  • The suicide of Mr Raymond Cutkelvin - decision on prosecution [The Crown Prosecution Service]
    Detailed statement from Keir Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, on the decision not to prosecute Michael Irwin and Alan Cutkelvin Rees in the Dignitas death of Raymond Cutkelvin.


"No prosecution for right-to-die doctor". BBC News. Page last updated at 11:43 GMT, Friday, 25 June 2010 12:43 UK. <>. BBC News, Television Centre, Wood Lane, London W12 7RJ.


Tags (or keywords) briefly indicate some major topics of the report.

  • assisted suicide

  • Cutkelvin Rees

  • Michael Irwin

  • prosecution

  • Dignitas

  • Britain

  • "What Broke My Father's Heart", the New York Times piece that is the first item in today's Overflow, is a well-written, moving and instructive end-of-life story.

  • German Court Rules on Withdrawal of Treatment [British Medical Journal Medical Ethics blog]
    Iain Brassington provides an accurate take on this story: German courts have today ruled that it is legal to withdraw lifesaving treatment with consent.

    According to Deutsche Welle,
    "Germany's highest criminal court has ruled that passive assisted suicide is legal if the patient has explicitly decreed his or her wish that treatment used to keep the patient alive should be terminated. "Turning off a ventilator or cutting a feeding tube fall under the category of permissible forms of terminating treatment," judge Ruth Rissing van Saan said."

    The DW headline refers to this as confirming the legality of passive assisted suicide; the BBC, in its coverage, refers to it as having legalised euthanasia with consent. As far as I can tell, both organisations are wrong. This, from the reports available at the moment, is not clearly euthanasia. At most, it's about resolving a question concerning whether an advance directive refusing treatment should stand. Unless you think that withdrawing treatment at the request of the patient is de facto euthanasia - and it isn't - then this is not euthanasia.

  • Status of euthanasia, assisted suicide in Europe [Yahoo! News UK]

    A review of the situation in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Britain.

  • Dignitas founder Ludwig Minelli "now a multi-millionaire" [Daily Mail]

    Swiss magazine Beobachter says that Ludwig Minelli, founder and manager of Dignitas, has had an unexplained increase in his personal wealth of 1.3 million pounds since opening Dignitas. Minelli has kept Dignitas finances secret.


Stories that EuthaNEWSia did not get to:

  • NYT Sunday Magazine: Turning Off Pacemakers [Pallimed: A Hospice & Palliative Medicine Blog]
    The New York Times Sunday magazine published a must-read article for any hospice or palliative care professional. I just read it this evening after receiving a couple of tips from Pallimed readers and don't have time to do the analysis tonight before the email goes out. Hopefully Lyle or I will likely get to covering the article in more detail later this week.

    Some of the issues covered include:
    family decision to deactivate a pacemaker
    cardiologists insisting on implantation
    cardiologists refusing (on moral grounds) to deactivate a pacemaker
    getting palliative care and later hospice involved in a patient with advancing dementia
    the widower effect on mortality
    informed consent
    the distant adult child effect
    living wills
    out of hospital DNR orders and bracelets
    deciding on nursing home placement
    lack of effective professional-to-professional communication
    caregiver exhaustion
    See. I told you that you must read it.

  • Scotland: 87 per cent of submissions against MacDonald's bill [The Scotsman]
    The report begins: MARGO MacDonald's bid to introduce assisted suicide in Scotland has been dealt a blow, with the vast majority of people giving evidence to Holyrood on the issue declaring that they oppose her bill. Analysis of the reaction generated by Ms MacDonald's End of Life Assistance Bill has revealed that 87 per cent of those who took time to produce written evidence were against it.

    Later in the story: Ms MacDonald said: "This doesn't surprise me. Nor does it discourage me.

    "Much of this has been a result of an orchestrated campaign against my bill. I don't blame people for what they believe in, but if there was a properly weighted opinion poll in Scotland, the results would be the same as they have been in other opinion polls, that between two thirds and three quarters of people are in favour of legal assistance to die. "I expect more a lot more people to get in touch with their MSPs in support of this as it goes through parliament."

  • Idaho: Law affects end-of-life care [Coeur d'Alene Press]
    The report begins: "A new law goes into effect July 1 giving Idaho health care workers the right to refuse to provide end-of-life care they find morally objectionable. Some fear the legislation places the conscience of a caregiver ahead of a dying person's rights.

    "We very strongly opposed this legislation this year," said David Irwin, spokesman for AARP of Idaho. "This is a bad idea. It's bad policy. It's not respective of the rights of Idahoans." The organization, representing older Idaho residents, is most concerned, Irwin said, about the legislation's effect on living wills and advanced directives, legally-binding documents that allow persons with terminal or irreversible conditions to dictate whether caregivers should continue artificial life-sustaining treatments.

    "If you draft a document that says you only want to be on life support for two weeks or three months, that's not something you do lightly," Irwin said. "That's why our members were so outraged by this. They want those rights to be respected, and this legislation allows those rights to not be respected."

  • Dr. Jack Kevorkian on Larry King Live [Politically Illustrated]
    [A video can be viewed from this page.] The report begins: "Doctor Jack Kevorkian, a doctor known for wanting to kill his patients, joined Larry King on Friday in support of medically-assisted suicide.

    "They do it secretly now. Doctors do it secretly now. Also, you have spouses where one shoots and kills the other and then has to commit suicide because they are afraid of prosecution. These are unnecessary deaths, unnecessary suffering," Dr. Jack Kevorkian told Larry King.

    What would be his ideal law?

    "They would contact the doctor, the doctor would find out the complaint. The doctor would receive the clients medical records and research past treatments and analyze if anything else is possible to cure the pain. What works, what doesn't…" said Dr. Kevorkian.


The EuthaNEWSia ID for this advisory is: enid201006255193.
Mailed: Friday, June 25, 2010 14:47:09 -0600
at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.


EuthaNEWSia is a free Canadian news advisory service covering end-of-life issues such as right to die, assisted suicide, and euthanasia. EuthaNEWSia is produced by the Right to Die Society of Canada which works toward a good death for all, including open, regulated and equitable access to euthanasia and assisted suicide. The editor is Michael Dawson <>.


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