Paralysed rugby player ‘killed himself’

The death of the paralysed rugby player whose death overseas reopened the British debate on euthanasia has been judged a suicide by the coroner.

Together with the screening of a film showing the death of British lecturer Craig Ewart in the Swiss Dignitas clinic tonight, Daniel James’ actions have provoked a storm of controversy on the subject over the last few days.

Yesterday, the director of public prosecutions said there was no public interest in pursuing a prosecution of the boy’s parents.

Coroner Geraint Williams said he was convinced Mr James intended to end his life when he went to the same clinic this September.

Yesterday, Keir Starmer QC, director of public prosecutions (DPP), said there was enough evidence to bring charges against Mark and Julie James under the Suicide Act of 1961, but a prosecution would not be in the public interest.

Mr Starmer, in his written assessment of the case, said: “While there are public interest factors in favour of prosecution, not least of which is the seriousness of this offence, I have determined that these are outweighed by the public interest factors that say a prosecution is not needed.”

Dignity in Dying, campaigners for a greater choice said: “Dignity in Dying welcomes the DPP’s decision not to bring charges against Mr and Mrs James.

“We fully agree that it is not in the public interest to bring a prosecution against Mr and Mrs James, but it is in the public interest to seek answers to the questions that this case and other like it raise.”

The decision has not been welcomed by everyone – especially religious groups and pro-life campaigners.

A spokesman from the Church of England said: “We will not comment on the specific case given that we do not have the full details which have led to this decision. It is an extremely unusual case which does not alter the established legal position regarding assisted suicide.

“The Church remains opposed to any steps which, in perception or reality, move towards the legalisation of assisted suicide in this country. Such legalisation would fundamentally undermine the basis of law and medicine and undermine the duty of the state to care for vulnerable people.”

Mr Starmer cited the fact that Daniel James, 23, was “fiercely independent” and was in no way encouraged by his parents to take his own life and the evidence shows they implored him not to.

The charges brought against the parents carry a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment.

The decision does not set a precedent, but has reignited the debate calling for a clarification of the law on assisted dying which started with Debbie Purdy’s challenge to the DPP asking for clarification.

Ms Purdy, a sufferer of multiple sclerosis, took her case to court asking for clarification of whether her husband would be prosecuted if he helped her travel to a Swiss clinic to end her life. Ms Purdy lost her case.

Dignity in Dying added: “We need clarity in the law. People should be able to make an informed decision about whether they are likely to face prosecution if they accompany a loved one abroad to die.”

The DDP also said the aiding and abetting of suicide in this case was “unique” and was not unlawful, unlike other cases of aiding and abetting suicide.