Assisted Dying: Reflections on the Need for Law Reform

Assisted Dying: Reflections on the Need for Law Reform

Assisted Dying: Reflections on the Need for Law Reform

Assisted Dying: Reflections on the Need for Law Reform


Assisted Dying explores the law relating to euthanasia and assisted suicide, tracing its development from prohibition through to the laissez faire attitude adopted in a number of countries in the 21st Century. This book provides an in-depth critique of the arguments surrounding legislative control of such practices and particularly looks into the regulatory role of the state. In the classical tradition of libertarianism, the state is generally presumed to have a remit to intervene where an individual's actions threaten another, rather than harm the individuals themselves. This arguably leaves a question mark over the state's determined intervention, in the UK and elsewhere, into the private and highly personal choices of individuals to die rather than live. The perceived role of the state in safeguarding the moral values of the community and the need for third party involvement in assisted suicide and euthanasia could be thought to raise these practices to a different level. These considerations may be in direct conflict with the so called right to die espoused by some individuals and groups within the community. However this book will argue that the state's interests are and should be second to the interests that the people themselves have in choosing their own death.

Assisted Dying is winner of the The Minty Prize of the Society of Authors, and winner of the Royal Society of Medicine Book Awards, 2008


It is scarcely surprising that there is a huge volume of literature about assisted dying. The way in which we die is obviously of great significance to us, as is the life we lead and the way we live it. We are now living longer, often with chronic but manageable conditions. Indeed, even conditions which would previously have been terminal can be handled in such a way that we may survive with them longer now than ever before. Paradoxically, however, it has been said that ‘[t]he most striking result of the success of medical technology is the very strong trend toward the combination of longer lives and worsening health’.

For some people confronting the end of their lives will be a peaceful, even defining, moment. For others, however, the possibility of a drawn-out death, characterised by loss of control and suffering, deforms the final stages of life. Modern medicine raises the possibility – doubtless welcomed by some – of extending lifespan, with or without perceived quality. For others, these same capacities are more like a threat. Thus:

The … possibility of being maintained on life support for months and
in some cases for years, has engendered anxiety among elderly and non
elderly patients. Accordingly, patients and their families are more and
more willing to take part in the medical decisions at the end of life.

In some cases, this search for engagement, for involvement in end-of-life decisions will take the form of wanting to control our deaths as we wish to shape our lives. Although longevity is increasing, and is actively encouraged by the advice on lifestyle, which can help us live longer, and the medicines and therapies, which can help achieve this, not everyone values quantity

1 Callahan, D, The Troubled Dream of Life: In Search of a Peaceful Death, 2000, Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, at pp 43–44.

2 Frileux, S, Lelievre, C, Nunoz Sastre, M T, Mullet, E and Sorum, P C, ‘When is physician assisted suicide or euthanasia acceptable?’, (2003) 29 Journal Medical Ethicss book is intended to introduce both the lay reader and the prospective student to the issues and dilemmas that exist within the discipline of criminology. As the reader will discover, criminology is not an easy or a straightforward area of analysis to distil into one basic format. It is not like politics or sociology. They are disciplines whose basic concepts and ways of thinking (such as political institutions, concepts of justice or voting behaviour in the case of politics, or the structure of society, social class or questions of identity in the case of sociology) are agreed upon by those working within them. The debates that exist within those disciplines reflect how to make best sense of the polity on the one hand or society on the other. Criminology is different. It is an area of analysis that is not constituted by an agreed set of concepts or ways of thinking but is constituted by its subject matter: crime. As a result psychologists, sociologists, lawyers, politicians, all claim to have something to say about crime but they do not speak the same language or necessarily share in the same understanding of what counts as crime. So, trying to offer a ‘basic’ introduction to an area of analysis like this is neither easy nor straightforward.

There is, of course, another difficulty here, if the reader thinks about the question of what counts as crime. Although those interested in politics, sociology or psychology can talk to each other . . .

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