Sir: Thompson (Psychiatric Bulletin, August 1999, 23, 449–451), states ‘the Suicide Act of 1961 prohibits others from encouraging suicide’, and concludes that there may, therefore, exist ‘legal grounds' sanctioning suicide Websites. These suggested measures include possibly tracing Vulnerable individuals' who have disclosed suicidal thoughts, or who have communicated, for example, by way of the site bulletin board, that they have just acted on their suicidal ideation. Yet, it is difficult to see how there could be legal grounds propelling health care professionals (presumably), or any other individual, into such interventions. The Suicide Act 1961, prohibits the ‘aiding and abetting’ of suicide, but this is not necessarily synonymous with merely ‘encouraging’ suicide per se. Criminal liability arises in circumstances where a person takes active steps in assisting the suicide of another, such as by telling someone the amount of a drug required to secure death and leaving this within their reach. The Suicide Act 1961 does not extend to Scotland, although any individual taking similarly unambiguous steps to assist another in suicide might face ‘art and part’ liability in the aiding and abetting of a suicide, possibly resulting in a charge of culpable homicide. Neither does it apply to other countries, and it must be borne in mind that assistance in suicide is not a crime everywhere. Therefore, there can exist no competent application of the English law or governmental quantitative targets over the conduct of others in a wholly different jurisdiction.
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