Fifty Years On: Against the Stigmatising Myths, Taboos and Traditions Embedded Within the Suicide Act 1961 (UK)
Shaw, Julia J A
Journal of law and medicine 2011 Jun; 18(4): 798-810
Although assisted suicide carries a maximum of 14 years imprisonment in England, courts and juries have historically demonstrated a reluctance to convict, most specifically in relation to those travelling abroad to accompany a terminally ill person seeking assisted dying. The possibility of prosecution is still present, however, and there have recently been a number of challenges to the law on assisted dying. During the consultation period of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (UK) an amendment was proposed that would have legalised, among other things, assisting suicide overseas. However, it was voted down by peers who believed it to be dangerously radical. In 2008 a multiple sclerosis sufferer requested a clear policy statement, should her partner help her to seek assisted dying abroad in the future. After her application was initially rejected, Mrs Purdy was granted leave to appeal and following a favourable ruling by the House of Lords in 2009, the Director of Public Prosecutions clarified the law on assisted suicide, introducing a Full Code Test which includes the consideration of "public interest factors". Although the new guidelines are not a direct threat to the 50-year-old Suicide Act 1961 (UK), it is clearly an historic development: the latest in a series of high-profile cases and debates which have taken place over the last decade. It is suggested that English law on assisted dying continues to rely on a range of inappropriate concepts, taboos and superstitions, and it is from this perspective that the implications for future legislative reform are addressed.
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