Stephen Sedley, 21 October 2021
The wording of Section 2 of the 1961 Suicide Act, in a single blow, criminalises both assisting and encouraging a suicide by linking them with the word ‘or’. There is all the difference in the world between the two. To deliberately encourage a person to take their own life when they might otherwise not have done so will, save in the rarest circumstances, merit prosecution. To assist someone who has independently decided they want their life to end is morally and ethically quite different. But it will not necessarily be permissible because this class of case – assisting though not encouraging suicide – will cover both suicidally disturbed individuals who might desist if they are not helped to carry out their intention, and others whose rationality in wishing to exercise their right to bring unendurable suffering to an end is beyond doubt. The former class is not within the ambit of any defensible assisted dying policy. It is the latter class with which I am concerned.