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Crossing the Rubicon? Legal developments in assisted suicide

  • Susan F. Welsh
Summary

UK law on assisted suicide and euthanasia is very clear: it is unlawful. However, there have been successive proposals for changes to legislation in this area (in England and Scotland) and a series of individual challenges to current legislation in the courts. This article does not seek to debate the profound ethical arguments that surround this emotive subject, but instead to portray how the law, through court judgment and legislative proposals, has wrestled with opposing views, particularly over the past decade or so, as the impact of the Human Rights Act has presented unique challenges. Some of our closest European neighbours have diverse legislation that could influence our own legislature, and, from across the Atlantic, the Oregon Death with Dignity Act is being mirrored in proposals to change the law in the UK.

Learning Objectives

  1. Be able to recognise the impact of the Human Rights Act on challenges to legislation relating to assisted suicide.
  2. Understand proposals for statute.
  3. Appreciate how certain other countries legislate in this area.

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Copyright
Corresponding author
Dr Susan F. Welsh, Beechcroft, Fulbourn Hospital, Cambridge CB21 5EF, UK. Email: susan.welsh@cpft.nhs.uk
Footnotes
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For a commentary on this article, see pp. 378–379.

Declaration of Interest

None.

Footnotes
References
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Andorno, R (2013) Nonphysician-assisted suicide in Switzerland: bioethics beyond borders. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, 22: 246–53.
BBC News (2014) Assisted dying law would lessen suffering says Falconer. 18 July. BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-28352680).
Bosshard, G, Broeckaert, B, Clark, D et al (2008) A role for doctors in assisted dying? An analysis of legal regulations and medical professional positions in six European Countries. Journal of Medical Ethics, 34: 2832.
Burns, S (2010) The limits of maternal love. Criminal Law & Justice Weekly, 30 Apr.
CBC News (2014) Assisted suicide appeal to be heard by Supreme Court. CBC News (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/assisted-suicide-appeal-to-be-heard-by-supreme-court-1.2498892).
Commission on Assisted Dying (2011) “The Current Legal Status of Assisted Dying is Inadequate and Incoherent…”. Demos.
Crown Prosecution Service (2008) Decision on Prosecution – The Death by Suicide of Daniel James. Crown Prosecution Service (http://www.cps.gov.uk/news/articles/death_by_suicide_of_daniel_james/index.html).
Director of Public Prosecutions (2009) Interim Policy for Prosecutors in Respect of Cases of Assisted Suicide. Crown Prosecution Service.
Director of Public Prosecutions (2010) Policy for Prosecutors in Respect of Cases of Encouraging or Assisting Suicide. Crown Prosecution Service.
Ganzini, L, Harvath, TA, Jackson, A et al (2002) Experiences of Oregon nurses and social workers who requested assistance with suicide. New England Journal of Medicine, 347: 582–8.
Hainsworth, J (2013) Canada upholds law against assisted suicide. ABC News, 10 Oct.
House of Lords (2013) Assisted Dying Bill [HL Bill 24, 55/3]. TSO (The Stationery Office).
Menon, N (2014) Assisted suicide bill faces legal challenges in Quebec. Wall Street Journal, 6 Jun.
Oregon Health Authority (1994) Death with Dignity Act: Oregon Revised Statute. Oregon Health Authority (public.health.oregon.gov/ProviderPartnerResources/EvaluationResearch/DeathwithDignityAct/Pages/ors.aspx).
Oregon Public Health Division (2014) Oregon's Death with Dignity Act - 2013. Oregon Health Authority (http://public.health.oregon.gov/ProviderPartnerResources/EvaluationResearch/DeathwithDignityAct/Documents/year16.pdf).
Patients Rights Council (2014) Current law regarding euthanasia. Patients Rights Council (http://www.patientsrightscouncil.org/site/belgium).
Powell, D (2009) House of Lords: assisting suicide and the discretion to prosecute revisited. Journal of Criminal Law, 73: 475–9.
Roxby, P (2012) Assisted suicide: 10 years of dying at Dignitas. BBC News Health, 21 Oct.
Saul, H (2013) First Briton ends life through assisted suicide at Dignitas because of dementia. The Independent Home News, 30 May.
Schadenberg, A (2013) Government of France ethics committee rejects the legalization of assisted suicide. Alex Schadenberg Blog Spot, 2 Jul. Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.
Silverman, R (2013) Right-to-die: law must clarify whether doctors can aid euthanasia. The Telegraph UK News: Law and Order, 31 Jul.
Spranzi, M (2013) The French euthanasia debate. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, 22: 254–61.
Topping, A (2009) New assisted suicide guidelines to give ‘clear advice’ to relatives. The Guardian, 23 Sep.
Urquhart, C (2014) Daughter helped elderly parents take lethal drugs and watched them die. The Guardian, 15 Jan.
Waterfield, B (2013) Number of Dutch killed by euthanasia rises by 13 per cent. The Telegraph News: The Netherlands, 24 Sep.
Watson, R (2009) Luxembourg is to allow euthanasia from 1 April. BMJ, 338: b1248.
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BJPsych Advances
  • ISSN: 1355-5146
  • EISSN: 1472-1481
  • URL: /core/journals/bjpsych-advances
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Crossing the Rubicon? Legal developments in assisted suicide

  • Susan F. Welsh
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