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Mason and McCall Smith's Law and Medical Ethics

Mason and McCall Smith's Law and Medical Ethics (12th edn)

Anne-Maree Farrell and Edward S. Dove
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date: 26 February 2024

p. 59818. Euthanasia and Assisted Suicidelocked

p. 59818. Euthanasia and Assisted Suicidelocked

  • A. M. FarrellA. M. FarrellChair of Medical Jurisprudence at the University of Edinburgh
  •  and E. S. DoveE. S. DoveReader in Health Law and Regulation at the University of Edinburgh


As with treatment withdrawal and withholding, both law and ethics are engaged in the debates on euthanasia and assisted suicide. While the law is immovable on the proscription of the former as murder, assisted suicide is becoming increasingly permissible in various jurisdictions, subject to a range of conditions, or ‘safeguards’. These range from residency in the jurisdiction for a period of time, to capacity and a terminal diagnosis. In this chapter, we begin by discussing the question of euthanasia, before turning to assisted suicide as an expression of a person’s autonomy. We consider the ways in which the UK jurisdictions could reverse the current position in which assisting a suicide amounts to a criminal offence, including both a jurisprudential and a legislative route to reform. We conclude that while this is an essentially constitutional issue, there is no need for legislative reform, save in respect of that narrow class of patient with a degenerative and incapacitating neuromuscular disease.

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