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UK experts say assisted suicide possible under strict criteria, but critics call report biased

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LONDON - An independent panel of experts in the U.K. says there is a strong case for changing British law to help terminally ill people die.

In a report Thursday, the Commission for Assisted Dying described the legal status of assisted suicide in Britain as "inadequate and incoherent." It is illegal to help a terminally ill person commit suicide, but prosecutions are rare. In 2009, the government's top prosecutor said most people who help terminally ill friends and family members die were unlikely to be charged.

The commission said it would be possible to legally allow assisted suicide for terminally ill people under strict criteria: those who were at least 18 years old and who were making a voluntary choice free from coercion or mental health problems.

The experts called for additional safeguards should assisted suicide be legalized, including requiring patients to be seen by at least two doctors. The system would not let doctors administer a lethal dose but would give such medication to the patient to take when he or she chooses after the other criteria has been met.

"The commission is not recommending that any form of euthanasia should be permitted," the report said.

Critics, however, say the commission was biased, and the British Medical Association refused to participate in the report. The commission is supported by Dignity in Dying and other advocates who favour changing the law.

In Canada, the national Dying with Dignity organization applauded the U.K. commission's recommendations and urged that Canada go further.

“The support in dying recommended by the commission is limited to the prescription of lethal medication which the patient must then take themselves," executive director Wanda Morris said in a statement Thursday.

"A patient like Gloria Taylor, who will be unable to physically take and swallow medication at the point when she wants to die, would not be helped by the recommendations of this report.”

Taylor, who lives in Kelowna, B.C., is challenging Canada’s laws in a case currently before the Supreme Court of British Columbia. She has Lou Gehrig's disease and has asked to be able to die with the help of a doctor.

In the U.K., one anti-abortion group labelled the commission report "a renewed attack" on disabled and elderly people.

"This is part of a thoroughly nasty strategy to convince the public that many disabled people want to die," Paul Tully of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children said in a statement.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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Online:

Commission for Assisted Dying report: http://www.commissiononassisteddying.co.uk/