Should assisted suicide be legal?

14th June 2013 at 01:00
Two men are fighting for the right to choose death - and for protection for the people who help them to end their lives

A new legal battle was launched in Britain last month over the right for people with severe health problems to call on doctors, family or friends to help them die.

Paul Lamb, 57, a former builder paralysed in a road accident 23 years ago, and another man with locked-in syndrome, known only as Martin, took their cause to the Court of Appeal in London, England. Both want help to end their lives.

Lamb wants a doctor to help him die by lethal injection, and would like the court to guarantee that nobody who assisted him would be charged with murder.

Martin wants current legal guidelines on assisted suicide to be loosened to allow a medical professional to help him die.

Their cases come after that of Tony Nicklinson, who suffered from locked-in syndrome and last year fought in the High Court for the right to die. He died of natural causes a week after losing his bid. Lamb has taken over Nicklinson's claim.

In the UK, it is an offence to encourage or assist a suicide or suicide attempt.

Why, you could ask your students, is this such an emotive and controversial subject? Should people have the right to request that doctors help them to end their lives? What are the potential pitfalls of allowing this to happen?

In a statement, Lamb said: "I am in pain every single hour of every single day. I have lived with these conditions for a lot of years and have given it my best shot. I feel I cannot and do not want to keep living."

Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, said that the court's decision would be based not on sympathy for the plaintiffs' plight but on legal principles alone.

Lamb's case is supported by the British Humanist Association, which wants people to have the right to request doctor-assisted death in certain circumstances.

But Dominica Roberts, a spokesperson for campaign group Care Not Killing, which is on the opposite side of the debate, said: "It would be very dangerous to give (doctors) the authority to kill."

She added that although there are a small number of "firm-minded people" such as Nicklinson and Lamb, "on the other side you have ... perhaps hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people whom the law protects by the absolute blanket 'thou shalt not kill'".

CLASS QUESTIONS

- What is the law on the right to die? Can doctors or family members help a person to end their life?

- What would the legal consequences of this be?

- What are the stances of different religions on voluntary and assisted death?

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