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Assisted Suicide

On 25th June the Supreme Court delivered its judgment on three legal challenges on the law relating to assisted suicide.

The legal challenges were brought by Paul Lamb, who is paralysed as a result of a car accident and Jane Nicklinson, the widow of the right-to-die campaigner Tony Nicklinson.  They wanted the Court to make a declaration that the current law prohibiting doctors from helping to end of the lives of patients is incompatible with human rights legislation.  Another claimant, knows as AM, challenged the Director of Public Prosecutions’ (DPP) policy on assisted suicide which he claimed needed revised and clarified. 

The nine judges were divided on whether the current prohibition on assisted suicide is incompatible with Article 8 ECHR rights.  However, a majority of the Justices ruled that the Court could in theory declare the ban incompatible unless Parliament acts to reform it.

Similarly, the Court refrained from ordering the DPP to clarify the 2010 prosecuting policy on assisted suicide.  However,  it is clear that she is expected to look again at her policy.  In relation to this issue, Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court stated:

“If the DPP’s policy does not mean what she intends it to mean, and this has been made clear in open court, then it is her duty…to ensure that the confusion is resolved.”

 For further commentary, click here to read an article by barristers at Doughty Street Chambers, or for coverage from The Guardian click here.

Medical Law, Right to Life, Suicide