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Do We Have A Right To Die?

Andy McHugh

3rd December 2018

The right to decide when your own life should end is a controversial one.

Some believe that the right to decide your own fate should be protected under the ECHR - Article 8, the right to respect for one's private and family life. Advocates of this position argue that the way a person decides to live and die should be purely a personal and private matter and one that the state should not interfere with.

Others argue that to allow euthanasia or assisted suicide would either purposefully or unwittingly undermine ECHR - Article 2, the right to respect for life. This is because once the ultimate protections on life are relaxed, vulnerable people become at risk, especially if financial interests are at stake. (Think about those who stand to benefit from a dead relative's will, or those who can profit from 'selling' euthanasia to terminally ill people as a solution to their problems.)

The right to life is known as an 'absolute' right. This is one that in most cases, the state has no authority to interfere. This is one reason why the death penalty was abolished in the UK. However, there are some circumstances where restrictions on the state may not apply. An example of this would be if the police had to shoot to kill a terrorist, who was about to murder a group of people. Killing the terrorist, in this instance, would not breach their right to life, as long as the force used was necessary and proportionate to prevent the crime about to be committed.

There is also a positive obligation on the state to protect the right to life. However, this positive obligation itself is not absolute. For example, it would be very difficult for the state to fund life-saving medicines for everybody! Despite this, the state should still do all it reasonably can, to uphold the right to life.

But does a right to life imply a right to die?

The UK Supreme Court decided recently that Noel Conway, a Motor Neuron Disease sufferer, did not have legal permission for someone to help him die. You can read an article on the outcome of the case here. The decision in the Conway case follows a string of decisions (eg Pretty [2002] and Nicklinson [2014]) whose decisions have all made clear that there is a right to life, but there is not a corresponding right to death.

Currently, the crime of assisting suicide carries a sentence of up to 14 years in prison. However, in reality, many serve nowhere near this length of time and many more are not even convicted at all, despite the evidence against them.

When "80% of the public" agree with the relaxation of the ban on euthanasia and assisted suicide, according to the Chief Executive of Dignity In Dying, it should not just be left to the courts to decide what the law should be; Parliament should debate it.

Bu, what do YOU think?

Andy McHugh

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