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  1. ITV Report

What are the current laws on assisted suicide in the UK?

There are calls to legalise assisted dying in the UK. Credit: Reuters

After cancer sufferer Bob Cole told ITV News that right-to-die laws in the UK must change before he chose to end his life, we take a look at the current legal position.

What is assisted suicide?

  • Assisted suicide is when someone deliberately assists or encourages another person to kill themselves

What is the current legal position in the UK?

  • Euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal under English law
  • The Suicide Act 1961 makes it a criminal offence in England and Wales to:

Aid, abet, counsel or procure the suicide of another or an attempt of another to commit suicide.

– Suicide Act 1961
  • Anyone caught doing so could face up to 14 years in prison
  • The law is almost identical in Northern Ireland
  • Campaigners in Scotland argue the law there lacks clarity
  • An Assisted Dying Bill was rejected by the Scottish Parliament in May

How does the UK's law compare to other countries?

Assisted suicide is currently only legal in:

  • Belgium
  • Holland
  • Luxembourg
  • Switzerland
  • US states of Washington and Oregon

Are there any plans to change the law in the UK?

  • Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill is due to be debated in the House of Commons on September 11
  • If passed, it would allow doctors in England and Wales to end the life of a terminally ill and mentally competent patient with less than six months to live
  • Two independent doctors would have to sign a declaration that the person had made a decision to die
  • The patient would then administer the drugs themselves while in the company of a health professional
  • The heath professional will not be allowed to administer the medicine

What do pro-assisted dying campaigners say?

Assisted dying must be a fundamental right for us all.

We must be free from torture and suffering, we must have the freedom to choose for ourselves.

We have no choice about how and when we come into this word, but it seems that we should be able to have a choice in how we leave it if our death is fast approaching.

– Sir Patrick Stewart, actor and Dignity in Dying supporter

And opponents?

If the Assisted Dying Bill passes, people’s lives will be ended without their consent, through mistakes and abuse.

What terminally ill and disabled people need is an Assisted Living not an Assisted Dying Bill.

– Liz Carr, actress and Not Dead Yet campaigner

What does the British Medical Association (BMA) say?

All forms of assisted dying (euthanasia and assisted suicide) are illegal in the UK.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in England and Wales, and the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) in Northern Ireland, look at individual cases to ascertain whether a prosecution should be brought.

Decisions taken by prosecutors are now guided by the factors discussed below.

– BMA

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