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Assisted suicide and human rights in the UK

  • Martin Curtice (a1) and Charlotte Field (a2)
Summary

Assisted suicide is an emotive issue that will undoubtedly continue to grab media headlines, especially as medical science is able to prolong survival in chronic medical disorders. The law in the UK as applied under the Suicide Act 1961 is currently very sympathetic to cases of assisted suicide, whereby the individual has travelled abroad to a country where it is lawful to end their life, in that people assisting them and thus committing an offence have not been prosecuted. This article analyses a recent High Court case pertaining to the Suicide Act 1961 demonstrating the central importance of the Human Rights Act 1998 in such cases. It then discusses implications for clinicians and the future of the Suicide Act itself.

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Copyright
Corresponding author
Martin Curtice (mjrc@ukonline.co.uk)
Footnotes
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Declaration of interest

None.

Footnotes
References
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1 House of Commons. Prime Minister's Questions, 10 December 2008. Hansard 2008 (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmhansrd/cm081210/debtext/81210-0003.htm).
2 Panorama. I'll Die when I Choose. BBC1, 8 December 2008.
3 Real Lives. Right To Die? Sky TV, 10 December 2008.
4 Purdy R (on the application of) v. Director of Public Prosecutions & Anor [2008] EWHC 2565 (QB) 29 October 2008.
5 Director of Public Prosecutions. Decision on Prosecution – The Death by Suicide of Daniel James. Crown Prosecution Service, 2008 (http://www.cps.gov.uk/news/articles/death_by_suicide_of_daniel_james/).
6 R (on the application of Pretty) v. DPP [2001] UKHL 61.
7 Pretty v. the United Kingdom [2002] EHRR Application no. 2346/02. 29 April.
8 Guidelines for Crown Prosecutors, Section 10 of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 (https://www.opsi.gov.uk/RevisedStatutes/Acts/ukpga/1985/cukpga_19850023_en_1).
9 Purdy, R (on the application of) v. Director of Public Prosecutions & Ors [2009] EWCA Civ 92.
10 R (on the application of Purdy) (Appellant) v. Director of Public Prosecutions (Respondent) [2009] UKHL 45.
11 Ganzini, L, Nelson, HD, Schmidt, TA, Kraemer, DF, Delroit, MA, Lee, MA. Physicians' experiences with the Oregon Death with Dignity Act. N Engl J Med 2000; 342: 557–63.
12 Ganzini, L, Goy, ER, Dobscha, SK. Prevalence of depression and anxiety in patients requesting physicians' aid in dying: cross sectional survey. BMJ 2008; 337: a1682.
13 Gielen, J, Van den Branden, S, Broeckaert, B. Attitudes of European physicians toward euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide: a review of the recent literature. J Palliat Care 2008; 24: 173–84.
14 Ganzini, L, Fenn, DS, Le, MA, Heintz, RT, Bloom, JD. Attitudes of Oregon psychiatrists toward physician-assisted suicide. Am J Psychiatry 1996; 153: 1469–75.
15 Ganzini, L, Leong, GB, Fenn, DS, Arturo Silva, J, Weinstock, R. Evaluation of competence to consent to assisted suicide: views of forensic psychiatrists. Am J Psychiatry 2000; 157: 595600.
16 House of Lords (2005) Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill – First Report. HL 86-I, vol. I. TSO (The Stationery Office) (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200405/ldselect/ldasdy/86/8602.htm).
17 Groenewoud, J H, van der Heide, A, Tholen, AJ, Schudel, WJ, Hengeveld, MW, Onwuteaka-Philipson, BD, et al. Psychiatric consultation with regard to requests for euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. Gen Hosp Psychiatry 2004; 26: 323–30.
18 Ryan, CJ, Shaw, T. Psychiatric review is mandatory in Australia. BMJ 2008; 337: a2478.
19 Eagle, M. Suicide Act. Hansard Ministerial Statements. House of Commons, 2008 (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmhansrd/cm080917/wmstext/80917m0001.htm#0809173000090).
20 Law Commission. A statement: Amendment of section 2 Suicide Act 1961 September 2008. Pertaining to the report ‘Inchoate Liability for Assisting and Encouraging Crime’ (2006) Law Com No 300 Cm 6878. Law Commission, 2008 (http://www.lawcom.gov.uk/docs/lc300.pdf).
21 Nugent, H. Lord Joffe to resurrect Bill in effort to clarify law. Times Online, 30 October 2008 (http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/law/article5042490.ece).
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BJPsych Bulletin
  • ISSN: 1758-3209
  • EISSN: 1758-3217
  • URL: /core/journals/bjpsych-bulletin
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Assisted suicide and human rights in the UK

  • Martin Curtice (a1) and Charlotte Field (a2)
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