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Police boss calls for reform on right to die

A police boss is calling for a change in the law to allow assisted dying.

North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones is one of 18 PCCs from across the UK to sign a letter to the Ministry of Justice urging reform on the right to die.

Mr Jones is supporting the campaign that’s been launched on behalf of Ron Hogg, the Police, Crime and Victims Commissioner for Durham, who has motor neurone disease and wishes for the law to be altered to allow him to end his life

It is an incurable condition that eventually leads to muscle wasting and death.

Mr Hogg already needs help to breathe and is challenging the law banning assisted dying.

He is said to be considering going to the Dignitas suicide clinic in Switzerland to shorten the suffering his condition will lead to.

It is understood he would prefer to die in his in Scotland, where he was born, but the current ban on assisted dying means he will have to go overseas.

It could also mean ending his life earlier than he would want for fear he could be too ill to travel.

Mr Hogg said: “I think the law should allow assisted dying. Clearly you need to have safeguards. But there ought to be a clear path outlined where individuals who would want to choose that route can do so, and can do so legally within the UK.

Since being elected as North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner, Mr Jones has worked closely with Mr Hogg, who has been an innovative and passionate advocate of drug reform.

Mr Hogg has pioneered a new approach to minor offenders, including people with problematic drug use, through a successful scheme called Checkpoint.

The North Wales commissioner is about to launch a similar scheme called Checkpoint Cymru which will see low-level offenders here being given the chance to avoid a criminal record by signing up to a strict rehabilitation programme and staying out of trouble.

The letter co-signed by Mr Jones said: “Many will have experienced or heard of cases where the blanket ban on assisted dying has caused distress, confusion and pain for dying people, their loved ones, and even the investigating police officers themselves.

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“Most recently, great-grandmother, Mavis Eccleston, was acquitted by a jury after being charged with murder for helping Dennis, her husband of 60 years, to end his own life rather than suffer any further agony from advanced bowel cancer.

“Earlier this year, 76-year-old Ann Whaley was investigated by police for booking travel to and accommodation in Switzerland for her husband, Geoff, who had arranged an assisted death at Dignitas in order to avoid a prolonged, traumatic end from motor neurone disease. “The cost of these investigations – financial, emotional and societal – cannot be easily dismissed.

“We believe it is time for a renewed look at the functioning of the existing law on assisted dying.

“While there are clearly differences of opinion as to whether or how the law should change, we contend that the law is not working as well as it could and seek an inquiry to confirm that.”

The letter has been welcomed by the Dignity Dying organisation.

Chief executive Sarah Wootton said: “It is clear that the blanket ban on assisted dying is not working for dying people, for their families, or for the dedicated public servants who must enforce it.

“We all agree that vulnerable people must be protected, but that is not happening under the status quo.

“The ban on assisted dying merely drives the practice behind closed doors and abroad, with seriously ill people often ending their lives prematurely for fear of becoming too ill to act.

“There is also a scattergun approach to enforcing the law. Either there is either no scrutiny at all, meaning potential safeguarding opportunities are being missed, or loving family members are criminalised for acts of compassion and are forced to endure distressing and intrusive investigations at great cost to the public purse.

“When half of police and crime commissioners across the country recognise that a law is not working, law-makers have a duty to listen. It is time for a Ministry of Justice-led inquiry into the blanket ban on assisted dying.”

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