Suicide, Assisted Suicide, and Euthanasia
The commonest definitions of terms and examples (in italics) are presented here. Note that there is intense debate in the terms used in euthanasia and there are currently no consensus definitions. However, an attempt has been made here to present the most widely adopted definitions:

Key Legal Facts Regarding Euthanasia, Suicide and Assisted Suicide:

  • Euthanasia is unlawful in England. In fact the law treats it as murder as "mercy killing" cannot be used as a defence.
  • The law does not stop people from committing suicide, in fact the Suicide Act 1961 decriminalized suicide and attempted suicide. However, this does not extend to giving "claim right" to commit suicide (i.e. expect others to provide). As a result, this decriminalization should be interpreted as "liberty right", people cannot be stopped from committing suicide but one cannot demand a suicide.
  • Assisted suicide in the forms of aid, abet, counsel or procure suicide is a criminal offence under the Suicide Act 1961.
  • Although assisted suicide is unlawful, in reality "mercy killing" (treated as assisted suicide in law) is rarely prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service unless it is for public interest. Between 1982 to 1991, only 24 such cases were brought to court and 3 went to prison.
  • The Director of Public Prosecutions produced a list of public factors that will be taken into account in a case of assisted suicide. Important factors in favour of prosecution are victim of age under 18, victim with mental illness or learning disability, victim does not have informed wish to commit suicide, victim did not have terminal illness and victim is able to commit suicide by himself.

Doctrine of double effect

The "Doctrine of double effect" which differentiates between the actions of the healthcare professional where death is either foreseen or intended. A healthcare professional who gives a large dose of morphine knows that the patient may die through respiratory depression but this is justifiable as it is intended for pain relief. Doctors in the UK, can prescribe unlimited amounts of pain relief so long as this is in the best interests of the patient, even if the patient's life is shortened as a result.

Contrast that with the injection of potassium chloride, where the only intention is to cause the death of the patient as there is no therapeutic value. This is legally murder.

  • A joint statement from the BMA, the Resuscitation Council (UK) and the Royal College of Nursing
  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation: Standards for clinical practise and training (RCAnaesthetists, RCP, ICS, the Resuscitation Council UK)
  • Identification of potential donors of organs for transplantation: HSG (94)41 NHS Executive
  •, Human Organ Transplants Act 2004