Organised Assistance to Suicide in England?

Health Care Analysis 21 (2):85-104 (2013)
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Guidelines provided by the Director of Public Prosecutions suggest that anyone assisting another to commit suicide in England and Wales, or elsewhere, will not be prosecuted provided there are no self-seeking motives and no active encouragement. This reflects the position in Switzerland. There, however, no difference is made between assistance and inducement. In addition, the Swiss approach makes it possible to establish organisations to assist the suicides of both their citizens and foreign visitors. It should not be assumed that this approach is without controversy in Switzerland. Proposals for reform continue to be debated there, not least because of the concern about some of the actual practices of certain end-of-life organisations. It is likely that a few English citizens will continue to avail themselves of these services in Switzerland if they cannot find the help they require here. This paper explores the legitimacy of the current restrictive position adopted towards assisted suicide in England. It argues that the provisions within the guidelines prohibiting organisations that assist suicides, leaves some without the help they need. While legislative decriminalisation of assisted suicide and the establishment of state-sponsored suicide centres would represent the most permissive regime, this paper proposes that this would be a step too far. The preference here is for decriminalisation but adopting a ‘middle way’ between the two extremes: the more permissive approach provided by the ‘Swiss model’ is one that could be employed here, albeit within a more robust regulatory regime



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Christoph Rehmann-Sutter
University of Basel