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What are the rules around assisted suicide?

Updated Friday, 29th January 2016

What are the legalities of assisted suicide, is it accessible for all and should it be?

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If you have been affected by the issues in this programme, you can call Samaritans free from any phone on 116 123 (it will not appear on your phone bill), email, or visit to find details of your nearest branch.  The Motor Neurone Disease Association also provides support to people affected by motor neurone disease in England, Wales and NI - 03457 626262 or visit The Motor Neurone Disease Association.

Debate concept with two people discussing topic Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Brad Calkins | As you saw in How to Die: Simon’s Choice assisted suicide is illegal in the UK. Anyone who participates in active voluntary euthanasia will be prosecuted under criminal law, although challenges to the present position and to the law regarding assisted suicide are common. In the programme, Simon’s consultant says that very few people with motor neurone disease choose to go to Switzerland but, as you will have seen, you need to be able to afford to travel there and pay for the service.  It may then be a question of not having the choice to go.

Another consideration is that, in order to access assisted dying, people need to be well enough to travel to a setting in which it is legal and that means the choice might have to be made earlier than they might have wanted. Fundamentally, wanting to avoid the final stages of dying suggests that people are concerned that the end might be ‘beastly’ and, further, that they might be a burden. The uncertainty associated with the final stages of dying and the potential loss of control can be seen as powerful arguments for avoiding the final stages. For some people a ‘good’ death would include the right to choose the nature and timing of that death.

This short video tells the story of Diane Pretty who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. She appealed for a change in the law so her husband, Brian, could help her die without fear of prosecution. After losing their fight in the British courts, Diane and Brian took their case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Diane's husband, Brian Pretty, tells their story:


Arguments against assisted suicide are well rehearsed and can be rooted in the belief that killing is wrong in any circumstances. You might think that people in the medical profession have a duty to preserve life – even though someone might be near the end of life. It may also be argued that that placing people who are working to save life in the role of helping to take life has the potential to destroy trust. This is also what is known as the ‘thin end of the wedge’ argument, that there might be pressure on some dying people who are afraid to be seen as a burden.  Simon refers to this himself when he says that he doesn’t think everybody should be able to choose assisted suicide.

Before watching the programme, where did you stand on this issue? Has the programme changed your mind?

What are your thoughts? Have your say using the comments section below:


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PLEASE NOTE: This discussion hub is intended for discussing the issues surrounding assisted suicide and the right to die, please do not use it for personal attacks on any individuals – either those featured in the programme or others using the hub. Any comments along this line will be removed.





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