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Journal of Medical Law and Ethics (JMLE)

Losing our grip on death: What now for assisted dying in the UK?

Nataly Papadopoulou

Recent developments on assisted dying in England and Wales are a unique opportunity to engage academics, healthcare professionals, and the public in a fresh round of debate on one of the most controversial subjects of modern times. Assisted dying is currently topical worldwide, with California in the US (2015),

The End of Life Option Act is available at: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160SB128 (accessed 24 March 2017).

Canada (2016),

Bill C-14 is available at: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/PDF/2016_3.pdf (accessed 24 March 2017). 

Colorado in the US (2016),

The End-of-Life Options Act is available at: www.leg.state.co.us/LCS/Initiative%20Referendum/ 1516initrefr.nsf/b74b3fc5d676cdc987257ad8005bce6a/99fbc3387156ab5c87257fae00748890/ %24FILE/2015-2016%20145bb.pdf (accessed 24 March 2017).

  and the District of Columbia in the US (2017),

The Death with Dignity Act is available at: http://lims.dccouncil.us/Download/33261/B21-0038-Introduction.pdf (accessed 24 March 2017).

recently enacting legislation on physician-assisted dying. Between 2010 and 2015 significant developments also took place in England and Wales, though not leading to legalisation. This article engages in a discussion and evaluation of these developments, namely, the establishment of the Commission on Assisted Dying in 2010 and the publication of its Report in 2012, the ground-breaking Supreme Court case of Nicklinson in 2014, and the Private Members’ Bill, the Assisted Dying Bill (2013-2015). In particular, although the Bill’s progress was significant, the UK’s Parliament and the government were again reluctant and failed to use the Bill as an opportunity to deal with difficult questions. In an area of conflicting societal and individual interests and of great importance for medicine, ethics, and law, this article suggests that a balance between the ‘protection’ of ‘vulnerable’ groups potentially affected by the legalisation of assisted dying, and ‘choice’ in the context of life-expectancy should be considered in future reform.


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