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If the law remains as it is, of course, criminal sanctions would continue to threaten those who help others kill themselves. Since assistance in suicide can be malicious or culpably negligent, it is right that the law should continue to seek to deter it. In difficult, grey cases, however, where neither malice nor negligence is evident, the Director of Public Prosecutions has the liberty to decide that prosecution would not be in the public interest. This liberty he has in fact exercised on many recent occasions, with the result that Daniel James's parents and their like have suffered no penalty. The current arrangement is not perfect: well-intentioned helpers in suicide are presumably subject to a measure of anxiety until the DPP reaches his verdict. But precedent should reassure them: none of those accompanying the more than 100 British citizens who have killed themselves with Dignitas's assistance has been prosecuted. And the forthcoming publication of the DPP's criteria should reassure them further. In the end, the law has consistently and wisely refrained from bringing its threats to bear in such fraught cases and it will continue to do so.

The human suffering that assisted suicide proposes to solve needs to be taken seriously. But the relaxation of the law prohibiting intentional killing would give us a radically libertarian society at the cost of a socially humane one. And besides, there is another way — no more perfect, but a lot more prudent.

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