The Suicide Act

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Critically assess whether the Suicide Act 1961 should be amended to permit physician assisted suicide. The Suicide Act 1961 amended the law of England and wales and professed that the act of suicide is not a criminal offence. However, section 2(1) of the current legislation makes it a statutory offence to “aid, abet or counsel or procure the suicide of another.”[1] Thus the criminal act carries a sentence of up to fourteen years’ imprisonment for assisting another to commit suicide. This subsection of the legislation commonly relates and incorporates to all cases of assisted suicide including Physician assisted suicide (PAS).

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Nevertheless there has been a myriad of efforts to legalise PAS; commonly, by means of private members’ bill in the House of Lords however none have been successful yet. Lord Joffe, a prominent supporter of PAS, proposed the ‘Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill’ three times, in order to provide the opportunity of PAS to individuals who were critically ill, however the possibility for the current legislation to be amended was opposed in 2006 by 148 votes to 100[2]. However, whether the Suicide Act should be reformed to permit PAS has proven to be somewhat stimulating to many legal theorists and contemporary academics for decades. The term ‘Physician Assisted Suicide’ relates to a circumstance by which a physician intentionally provides a treatment to a knowledgeable and capable patient on her or his request. Even though in the case of such an event, the means to the death of the individual is self-administered, the physician’s role as an agent is in breach of s.2 of the Suicide Act 1961.[3] Nevertheless the American and European jurisdictions share common principles regarding such instances, which insinuate that PAS is considered to be a moral wrong and an offence of criminal nature on a universal scale.[4] Currently, there have been prominent legal proceedings in America and Canada in pursuit of challenging the ‘universal belief’ that PAS is a criminal offence. According to the factual and moral assessments of PAS alongside further cases in the medical field, the patient’s death has a correlation with the Actus Reus or omission executed by the physician. In cases as such, it is clear that the position of human rights’ jurisprudence[5] in regards to medical law is somewhat controversial, thus prompting the need for the current legislation of PAS in the UK to reform. Prior to legalising PAS, some would argue that ethical and religious grounds should be taken into account. For instance a common ethical concept whereby many emphasise moral significance to PAS, is the fact that it does not directly kill the patient and the patient is simply assisted. However, In Williams’ ‘Intention and Causation in Medical Non-Killing’[6],

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