Framework for end-of-life decisions

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Consider how well the European convention of Human Rights provides an adequate framework for the making of end-of-life decisions. ANSWER Introduction The European Convention on Human Rights[1] has been accorded force and effect in the United Kingdom legal system by means of the Human Rights Act 1998[2]. The Act permits claims for a breach of a Convention right to be raised in UK courts, without necessitating a direct application to the European Court of Human Rights itself. The 1998 Act has exercised far reaching and profound consequences throughout the UK legal order as new rights across a multiplicity of different contexts have been conceded and enforced by the courts..

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This paper examines the matrix of law established by the ECHR concerning the making of end-of-life decisions and draws conclusions as to its adequacy. End of Life Decisions at Law The Hippocratic oath[3] taken by every Doctor provides as follows: ‘I will prescribe regimen for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgement and never do harm to anyone. To please no one will I prescribe a deadly drug nor give advice which may cause his death.’[4] This is the inviolable principle under which all doctors operate in theory. In addition the ECHR enshrines, in Article 2, the most fundamental human right of all: ‘Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law. No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction of a crime for which this penalty is provided by law.’ It is submitted that the highly sensitive and emotive issues of the right to life and end-of-life decisions[5] individually constitute highly fertile areas of law and in combination it can come as no surprise that there have been many cases on the issue. It is pertinent to discuss some of the most prominent cases in analysing the adequacy of the position of the ECHR on end-of-life decisions[6]. In the case Pretty v United Kingdom (2002)[7] the applicant was suffering from a degenerative, incurable illness and was paralysed.. She alleged that the Director of Public Prosecutions’ refusal to grant an immunity from prosecution to her husband in the event that he provided her with assistance to commit suicide and the prohibition in UK law on assisting suicide contravened her rights under Articles 2, 3, 8, 9 and 14 of the ECHR. The applicant’s disease was in an advanced and worsening state of almost complete paralysis.. It was asserted that her life expectancy was poor but that her intellect and capacity to make decisions had been left entirely unimpaired. It was claimed the applicant was terrified of the notion of the long, painful and undignified terminal stages of the disease and that she had a very strong desire to be able to choose and control exactly how and when she died so as to be spared the suffering and indignity of a slow death.

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