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Assisted Suicide - End of life in depth

10 things you should know about ASSISTED SUICIDE

Here are 10 things we think you should know about assisted suicide.

Written by James Mildred as part of the End of life in depth series.

There have been multiple attempts to introduce assisted suicide in different parts of the UK. Here are 10 things you need to know about assisted suicide:

1. Assisted suicide is different to euthanasia

It’s important to be clear about the difference between assisted suicide and euthanasia. The latter is when the doctor administers the lethal drug/injection directly to the patient. The former is where the doctor provides the lethal drug, but the patient is the one who then administers it. The two practices are closely linked and the foremost campaign group for assisted suicide, Dignity in Dying, used to be called The Voluntary Euthanasia Society.

2. Assisted suicide is illegal in the UK

Assisted suicide is illegal across the UK and anyone convicted of helping someone to kill the self is liable to up to 14 years in prison.

  • In England and Wales, assisting or encouraging another person’s suicide is prohibited by s.2 of the Suicide Act 1961 as amended by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. The Director of Public Prosecutions will examine individual cases to decide whether to prosecute.
  • In Northern Ireland, assisting or encouraging another person’s suicide is illegal under s.13 of the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 1966.
  • In Scotland, there is no specific offence of assisting someone to commit suicide and any suspected offence would be dealt with under homicide law.

3. The current law has been said to have a ‘stern face but a kind heart’

There have been very few prosecutions under the current law and prosecutors have guidance to help them show discretion when it comes to hard cases. The current law acts as a necessary deterrent and sends a message that assisting someone to kill themselves is wrong. An assisted suicide law would communicate precisely the opposite message.

4. Evidence from overseas suggests disturbing trends

When you look at the evidence from overseas, there are two identifiable trends. The first is when assisted suicide is legalised, the numbers increase over time. The second is that the law is expanded to allow more and more people to choose an assisted suicide. Some call this incremental expansion, or the slippery slope. You see evidence of this in Oregon state, Washington state, Switzerland, Canada. In Belgium and the Netherlands, where euthanasia is legal, the slippery slope and expansion of the existing law is even more clear.

5. Complications when taking lethal drugs do occur

Although complications when patients take lethal drugs to kill themselves are rarely reported, they do occur. It’s also the case that no assisted suicide drug has undergone rigorous medical trials for use as a lethal substance. Deaths using the most common drugs have taken over 100 hours and complications can include vomiting, regaining consciousness and seizures.

6. For MPs, MSPs, MLAs and MSs, assisted suicide is a conscience issue

This means that they can choose to vote according to their own conscience, rather than being told how to vote by the Government or the party whips. This is also why it’s so important to engage your elected representatives by writing to them, emailing or meeting in person to share your concerns.

7. Assisted suicide is opposed most strongly by end-of-life medics

While proponents of assisted suicide will often cite huge support from doctors, the reality is far more mixed. When you look at the attitudes amongst doctors who work most closely with dying patients, you find the overwhelming majority are opposed to assisted suicide. The Association of Palliative Care is fiercely opposed.

8. Most deaths do not involve agonising pain

The media will often focus on unique cases, where someone does suffer pain and trauma at the end of life. These tragic cases do happen, and its grim experience is brutal for all involved. However, it’s important to note that the overwhelming majority of deaths are in fact peaceful and non-dramatic. This reality must be considered when you see hard cases in the media.

9. No disability rights organisations have campaigned in favour of law change

One of the groups in society most concerned by the prospect of assisted suicide being legalised are those living with disabilities. In fact, no disability rights organisation has ever campaigned for law change.

10. Polls indicating strong support for assisted suicide can be misleading

While polls suggest widespread support for law change, it all depends on how the questions put to the public are framed. If you cite examples of suffering and then ask people if they support law change, they’re far more likely to say yes. However, if you present people with the main arguments against assisted suicide, support for law change can drop dramatically.

Further Reading and resources

Dr Gillian Wright helps you understand how to answer arguments for assisted suicide

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10 things you should know about ASSISTED SUICIDE is part of the End of life in depth series in the Assisted Suicide cause.

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Syringe with a person standing on the tip looking over the edge

10 things you should know about ASSISTED SUICIDE

There have been multiple attempts to introduce assisted suicide in different parts of the UK. Here are 10 things you need to know about assisted suicide:


Assisted Suicide

Where assisted suicide is legal, it makes vulnerable people feel like a burden. CARE works to uphold laws that protect those people, and to assist them to live—not to commit suicide.

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