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  • Created on: 24-03-11 13:31

What is Euthanasia

Euthanasia is the termination of a person’s life in order to relieve them of their suffering; they usually have an incurable condition that inhibits their ability to carry out everyday activities. This means that another person must terminate their life as they are incapable. In English law we have strict rules regarding euthanasia and serious consequences for those who violate them.

What is the law on Euthanasia?  

The 1961 Suicide Act states that it is an offence to encourage or assist a suicide or a suicide attempt in England and Wales. An offence carries a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment. Euthanasia is legal in some countries such as  the Netherlands and Sweden, however British people may still be prosecuted if they return to the UK after assisting a suicide. 

The issue has been brought to the House of Lords twice between 1969-76 where they debated legalising euthanasia. Both times it was turned down and in 1953 the European Convention of Human Rights made it difficult for it ever to be legalised as it stated in Article 2 that ‘everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law, no one shall be deprived oh his life intentionally’. 

The most recent attempt to amend the law was the 2006 Assisted Dying Bill, proposed by Lord Joffe. This suggested that after signing a legal declaration that they wanted to die,  a patient’s doctor could prescribe a lethal dose of medication that the patient could take themselves. The proposal also stated that only people with less than six months to live, who are suffering unbearably and deemed to be of sound mind and not depressed, would be able to end their life. After a day of passionate debate, peers voted and backed an amendment to delay the bill for six months. Lord Joffe pledged to reintroduce the bill at a later date. The bill had many supporters, including Labour’s Baroness David who said: 

‘If I were terminally ill, I believe I would be the only person with the right to decide how I died, and whether I preferred palliative care to assisted dying. It would provide me with an additional option on how to end my life, which I would find tremendously reassuring.’ 

After a debate at the House of Lords, Lord Joffe stated he might be prepared to amend his proposals so doctors would not be required to administer a lethal injection as there was much protest from medical professionals. Although legislation has still not been amended, there is certainly an appetite for more debate on this matter. 

The director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, set out guidelines on assisted suicide which may influence whether a person would face prosecution or not.


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