Assisted dying and the status quo

General Article icon Type: General Article

The current legal status of assisted suicide in UK law

Deliberately and directly taking the life of another person, whether that person is dying or not, constitutes the crime of murder. The Suicide Act 1961, updated by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, makes encouraging or assisting a suicide a crime punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment. The Suicide Act gives the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) discretion over whether to prosecute cases of assisting or encouraging suicide – a decision is taken as to whether prosecution is in the public interest.

There have been a number of important cases challenging this law. In 2002, Diane Pretty, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease, wanted her husband to assist her in committing suicide when she was no longer physically able to do so herself. She asked the DPP to grant him immunity from prosecution. The DPP refused and she subsequently took the request to court. Two UK courts refused the request

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