Suicide

The GSCE/A'level syllabus specifically mentions:- the issue of the right to self-determination, consequences for individual and others.

Suicide is the act of ending your own life. Prior to the Suicide Act 1961 it was illegal to commit suicide and anyone who tried and failed would be subject to legal proceedings and possible detention. The Suicide Act 1961 brought a change to the law so that suicide is no longer a criminal act. However, it is still illegal to 'aid or abet' another person in taking their own life, and anyone who does this may face a maximum 14 years imprisonment.

Section 2(1) of the Suicide Act 1961:

A person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another, or an attempt by another to committ suicide, shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.

Many see suicide as an individual's 'right'. As long as the person is sane and truly wishes to die, and as long as they do not harm anyone else by their actions, what can be the reason for stopping them? The right to self determination asserts that we all have the freedom to make decisions about our own lives, and should not be stopped by acting on those decisions. The only justification for overriding an individual's right to self determination is if they are going to harm another person.

Is this true? Do we have 'rights' that extend to ending our own lives? Is it possible to kill yourself without there being consequences for other people? And how much importance should the effects on others be given?

The first of the following articles gives a brief history of society's attitude to suicide, and how that influences our thinking on the issue today. The second delves into some of the reasons why people commit suicide, and whether a Christian can ever find themselves in such a situation:

Some similar issues are also raised by physician assisted suicide (PAS). PAS may be asked for by a patient who wishes to die but is unable to commit suicide without help from another. The degree of help needed will depend upon how capable the patient is. Some may ask for provision of a lethal drug which they can then take themself. For the more incapacitated, PAS could involve setting up a mechanism whereby the patient merely has to 'press a button' to recieve a lethal injection. PAS immediately has consequences for another person, since it requires involvement of another by it's very nature.

PAS became front page news in 2001 with the case of Diane Pretty. Diane Pretty had motor neurone disease and wanted her husband to assist her suicide, since she was too ill to commit suicide withouth help. The following articles discuss some of the issues related to this case:

Issues relating to the end of life and peoples' wish to control when the die is considered in more detail through the euthanasia index

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