Assisted suicide is a contentious issue in the UK. Under the UK law, the 1961 Suicide Act, it is an offense to “aid, abet, counsel or procure the suicide of another.” Interpretation of the law is another matter entirely however and this is where things become much more complicated.
Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide: What do they mean?
Euthanasia has several different types under interpretation. From a layman’s standpoint, euthanasia means a “mercy killing” or “to put someone out of their misery” when a person is suffering from a terminal illness and usually in considerable pain. It is illegal in the UK.
Voluntary euthanasia is the term that means to end someone’s life with their permission, under the health condition as described above.
Involuntary euthanasia is the term that means that the sufferer is usually physically unable to end their own life and is unable to make the decision to do so. Therefore, strictly speaking consent is not directly been given, but in such cases often the family are well aware of the prior agreement to the action by the sufferer from a time when they were able to still communicate their wishes.
Assisted suicide is a category of euthanasia. It means that someone has been assisted in committing suicide by being provided with one way or several ways to carry out the action. This can be by providing apparatus or drugs or arranging transportation out of the UK in order to carry out the plan to commit suicide.
The Legal Position
From a legal standpoint, assisted suicide is illegal under the Suicide Act and punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment. However, only the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) from the CPS can determine whether to issue proceedings against the person or persons who assisted an enacted suicide. To do so, the DPP can only proceed if they believe it is in the public interest to do so. Therefore, whilst assisted suicide is illegal in the UK, not everyone who has assisted in a suicide has been prosecuted.
Director of Public Prosecutions Change of Policy
On February 24 2010, the DPP detailed the change in policy when dealing with the matter of assisted suicides. There are now 16 proposed public-interest factors that are to be considered on cases revolving around an assisted suicide. An earlier draft of the DPP paper detailed only eight.
The current thinking on the idea of a new law specifically related to assisted suicide is that it would be somewhat redundant and unlikely to pass as a law. The view of the DPP is therefore the policy of the government. This is an unusual and highly controversial situation, where the laws are not being passed by parliament but instead decisions are being made whether to pursue prosecutions based on the DPP’s own guidelines.
The major new development is the recent issue of whether someone is breaking the law if they help a terminally ill sufferer to travel to another country where assisted suicide is legal, and help them to die outside of the UK. The clarification from the DPP suggests that someone is more likely to be prosecuted than they were before, following the issuance of the new DPP guidance, but it is far than one hundred percent clear. Possibly because each case is unique and legislating or even making absolute policies for assisted suicide cases is simply too restrictive.
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