Intended for healthcare professionals


Assisted suicide

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 06 May 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:1088
  1. Richard Huxtable (, lecturer in medical law and ethics
  1. Centre for Ethics in Medicine, University of Bristol, Bristol BS2 8BH

    We need to clarify the current legal compromise but preserve the lenient attitude

    The existing law on assisted suicide is contradictory, confused, and opaque. We need to take a fresh look at this issue and perhaps preserve the essence of the compromise that the courts tacitly favour.

    Retired general practitioner Michael Irwin was recently investigated in the Isle of Man, for allegedly conspiring to assist the suicide of his friend Patrick Kneen.1 Irwin reportedly intended to provide a large dose of sleeping pills. Patricia, Mr Kneen's wife, was also investigated. In the event, neither was charged, which was surely a relief to both, given the prospect of a maximum prison sentence of 14 years, as would also be the case in England and Wales, under the Suicide Act 1961. The timing was arguably unfortunate, since the Manx Parliament (the House of Keys) is considering permitting voluntary euthanasia, a reform that Mr Kneen himself advocated publicly.

    Our law lords have also recently contemplated—but rejected—both a similar proposal from Lord Joffe and the application by Diane Pretty.24 Mrs Pretty, who had motor neurone disease, sought an assurance …

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