Corrie right to die plot highlights growing issue, says Higgs & Sons

6th December 2013

Experts at a leading Midlands law firm say a Coronation Street plot about the right to die has highlighted a major issue for a growing number of families.

Terminally ill Hayley Cropper wants to take control of her death after being diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer in the ITV soap.

But husband Roy is vehemently opposed to the decision, leading to a bitter battle of opinions between the pair.

Annabel Kay, solicitor in Higgs & Sons care and capacity department, said the TV case showed how sensitive and legally complex the right to die issue was.

"The scenes being played out by Hayley and Roy are becoming ever more common across the country as families find themselves wrestling with exactly the same issues in relation to their own loved ones.

"Advances in medical technology and an increased awareness of the issues around choosing to die mean this is not just a subject for TV dramas anymore, but a real legal issue very many people are having to come to terms with."

Annabel said despite the issuing of new guidelines by the Director of Public Prosecutions in 2010, there had been no change in the law over assisted suicide and 'mercy killing' in this country.

"Assisting suicide is still a crime with a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment, and cases of 'mercy killing' - where a person directly ends the life of another at their request - will still be prosecuted as murder.

"If, in the Coronation Street case, Roy killed Hayley, even if she encouraged this and it was done by Roy as an act of compassion, he would still be prosecuted for his actions."

Annabel said that after the Debbie Purdy case - in which the multiple sclerosis sufferer fought a court action to know if her husband would be prosecuted should he help her to travel abroad to take her own life - new guidelines were issued by the DPP, Keir Starmer QC.

"The guidelines make it clear that there is a distinction between compassionate acts to assist someone to end their own life, which, subject to other factors, are unlikely to be prosecuted and malicious encouragement or assistance of suicide which will be prosecuted.

"Therefore if Roy assists Hayley to end her life on compassionate grounds he would be unlikely to be prosecuted, although that cannot be guaranteed."

Annabel said latest Home Office figures showed 49 people were suspected of mercy killing in 2008/2009, while 135 Britons travelled to Switzerland to end their life in 2010.

Although assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland and voluntary euthanasia is allowed in Holland and Belgium, anyone making arrangements in this country for another person to travel to the continent to end their own life could face action for assisting a suicide.

Annabel said specialist legal advice was essential for anyone facing any of these issues because of the complex nature of the law.

"The Mental Capacity Act 2005 defines mental capacity and the code of conduct defines the way in which people who lack capacity are looked after by attorneys under a lasting power of attorney or deputies appointed by the Court.

"Higgs' has a specialist team to put powers of attorney in place who can discuss these issues whilst you have capacity and also provide specialist advice and guidance to attorneys and deputies after capacity has been lost.

"A 'Health & Welfare' lasting power of attorney appoints an attorney to take decisions about your personal welfare, including healthcare, once you lack the mental capacity to make the decision yourself.

"The attorney can make decisions about life-sustaining treatment for you if you expressly authorise this in your lasting power of attorney. At Higgs we can help people create just such a lasting power of attorney."

Higgs & Sons work from two offices in the Black Country - Waterfront Business Park in Brierley Hill and Kingswinford. The firm employs over 200 people, including 100 specialist lawyers. 

To find out how Annabel and the care and capacity team can support you call 0845 111 5050 or email annabel.kay@higgsandsons.co.uk


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