The Constitution of the United Kingdom is quite clear on most of the rights of its citizens, but when it comes to the subject of #the right to die, there is a lot of ambiguity. As per the 1961 Suicide Act, assisting a person to die- either by providing encouragement, the tools required or by actually pulling the plug- is a criminal offense punishable by #imprisonment for up to a period of 14 years. This is the case in Wales and England, while in Scotland, assisting someone with suicide can result in prosecution for the assistor.
The law makes it illegal for any family member, relative or medical care provider to assist in the #act of suicide. This law has been challenged on multiple occasions on the basis that the person is entitled to decide how they wish to live and die, and more importantly when to die. The cases where it has been challenged in both the English courts and the European Union Courts, the applicants have been inflicted with an incurable, terminal disease and are considering assisted suicide to help ease their passing.
The most recent case that has been made public is of Noel Conway. Currently residing in Shrewsbury, Mr. Conway used to be a college lecturer but has now retired. His physically active and fit lifestyle was put on hold after he was diagnosed with #motor neuron disease. With each passing day, the disease is leaving him weaker and weaker, and doctors say that very soon he will lose control over all his muscles and will be left in a catatonic state. He is unable to walk and for breathing, he relies heavily on a ventilator. #Mr. Conway wants the right to be able to die with dignity, but his wife and other family members are unable to help him. Due to this, they want to let the courts allow a doctor to prescribe a dose that will ease his passing.
Other similar cases include the 2001 legal battle of a motor neuron disease patient, #Diane Pretty who appealed to the European courts for allowing her husband to assist in her suicide, but the petition was unsuccessful. Another case surfaced in 2012 where #Martin and Tony Nicklinson’s appeals to let doctors assist in their suicides were rejected. Both patients had suffered through a stroke and were paralyzed.
In almost all of these cases, the applicants were on their way to losing all control of their bodies, both physically and mentally, and were considering assisted suicide as the last opportunity to take control of their life and decide how and when they wanted it to end. The matter has seen its fair share of opposition from the public, who believe that #allowing doctors and medical practitioners to assist in suicide would open a Pandora’s box. Giving doctors such a power could result in cases where this power is exploited and patients are coerced into committing suicide.
#Assisted suicide is permissible in Switzerland, and a few states of the United States including Oregon, California and Washington DC. The question remains, as to whether the English courts will reconsider how they interpret the Suicide Act or will continue to stand by the previous court rulings.