Nicola Padfield explores some aspects of the important decision of the Supreme Court in Nicklinson (R (Nicklinson and another) v Ministry of Justice; R (AM) v The DPP [2014] UKSC 38) focusing on the minority judgement of Baroness Hale.

The law currently draws a horribly artificial divide between ‘killing’ and ‘letting die’, which means that those people who can breathe without artificial help are denied a choice which is available to those who cannot breath alone.

Nicola Padfield

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“…An individual’s right to decide by what means and at what point his or her life will end, provided he or she is capable of freely reaching a decision on this question and acting in consequence, is one of the aspects of the right to respect for private life within the meaning of article 8 of the Convention [right to private and family life].” So said the European Court of Human Rights in Haas v Switzerland (2013) 56 EHRR 6, at para 51.

However section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961 makes it a criminal offence to encourage or assist the suicide of another person. Should it be an offence for anyone in any circumstances to help someone commit suicide? Nine judges in the Supreme Court considered a series of questions, which included the constitutional and somewhat technical question of whether it was for the judiciary to strike down section 2, or whether they should leave the question to Parliament. By a majority of seven to two, they voted not to issue a declaration that section 2 is incompatible with article 8.

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