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Law of assisted suicide not incompatible with the right to private life

9 October 2017

Noel Conway was unsuccessful in his High Court challenge against the law on assisted suicide in the latest in a long line of tragic cases.

The findings of the High Court reinforce what is now established authority that the prohibition against assisting suicide as contained in section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961 does represent an interference with an individual’s right to respect for his private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – the right of an individual of sound mind to decide how and when to end their life is at odds with making it illegal to make an informed decision to receive assistance to die.

However, the Article 8 right is not absolute and it was considered the blanket prohibition of assisting suicide – with particular regard to the aim of protecting the weak and vulnerable, and preserving the doctor / patient relationship – was necessary and proportionate. The High Court was not prepared to declare that the Suicide Act was incompatible with Article 8 rights.

It is clear from the judgment that while courts do have jurisdiction to determine the compatibility, or otherwise, between legislation and rights conferred by the ECHR, there will remain a reluctance to resolve any inconsistency in moral values – those dilemmas, the judiciary consider, remain best determined by Parliament.

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