Assisted-Dying Elsewhere

While this debate has already spanned many years now, this past week alone, the topic of assisted-suicide in Canada has been explored once more with the BC ruling discussed in this blog posting.

At this very moment, in the UK, this very same debate is ongoing, as the high court in London is currently hearing a case on assisted dying. Mr. Tony Nicklinson, who has suffered from locked-in syndrome since 2005, and his lawyer are arguing that the common law defence of necessity should be extended to doctors who assist individuals in cases of assisted suicide. At the moment, voluntary activie euthanasia in the UK is considered murder which can lead to a sentence of life imprisonment. Questions of right to a private life and human dignity are raised and will be debated.

According to an article in The Guardian:

The legal change would cover a charge of murder in cases of voluntary active euthanasia after a judge had sanctioned the act. The sanction would only be given if the court were satisfied that the person was suffering from a medical condition that caused “unbearable suffering”.

In addition, the patient would need to have given “a voluntary, clear, settled and informed wish to end his own life”. The judge would also need to be convinced there were no alternative means available by which their suffering might be relieved.

This case is set to be heard over a period of four days. It is considered a landmark case and the decision, one way or another, will have large social and ethical repercussions.


  1. The defence of necessity seems to me to be really stretched to cover assisted dying. It is also hard to see how that defence can justify the conditions that the applicant is willing to have imposed. The situation cries out for a legislated solution, which is the traditional way to solve a problem that the common law cannot. I don’t claim that it’s easy to get legislators to make these hard decisions, but in the absence of some other legal ground than necessity, I am not optimistic for the applicant in the courts of England.

  2. Thanks Genevieve.
    Do you know when the Nicklinson matter is scheduled to be heard and whether there will be any ability to watch the proceedings via streaming video or otherwise?