Assisted dying is not legal in the UK
In England and Wales, assisted dying is illegal under the 1961 Suicide Act, amended by the 2009 Coroners and Justice Act. It is a crime for someone to encourage or assist a person to take their own life. If convicted, breaking this law carries with it a sentence of up to 14 years imprisonment. Similar laws apply in Northern Ireland.
There is no law against assisted dying in Scotland, but nor is assisted dying legal. There is no legal route to access assisted dying in Scotland.
Doctors are forbidden from providing assistance to die
All doctors in the UK are regulated by the General Medical Council and must abide by the GMC’s ethical guidance. The GMC guidance does not permit a doctor to provide assistance to die. Any doctor who does help their patient to die could face disciplinary action and be struck off from the GMC’s register, losing their right to practice in the UK.
A doctor who provides assistance to a patient is also likely to face criminal prosecution. Under the prosecution guidelines in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, a doctor who assists a person “in his or her care” will be more likely to face prosecution than a non-doctor in the same circumstances.
Refusing medical treatment
If you are an adult with capacity, you must give your consent before you can be given medical treatment. If you do not give your consent but are treated anyway, the healthcare professional providing the treatment could be taken to court.
If you have mental capacity you have the right to refuse any medical treatment. This is so even if the treatment is necessary to save your life. You can also make an Advance Decision that records any treatments you want to refuse. Making an Advance Decision means that if you lack capacity in the future, your doctors would still have to follow your refusal.
More information on refusing medical treatment can be found at the website of our partner charity, Compassion in Dying.
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Hospices and palliative care
Palliative care in the UK is the best in the world and for many people with a terminal illness, it will be able to meet your needs. Palliative care is provided in hospices but it is also provided at community level by doctors and nurses. Your GP should be able to help you find out more about what support is available in your area. You can find out more about hospice care from Hospice UK. You can find out more about palliative care from the National Council for Palliative Care.
Compassion in Dying
We have a partner charity named Compassion in Dying, which provides people with information on how to ensure your decisions are respected in healthcare. They work to inform and empower people to exercise their rights and choices around end-of-life care. Lots of people make an Advance Decision, formerly known as a Living Will, even if they do not have a medical condition. An Advance Decision enables you to be in control of future medical treatment decisions even if you cannot communicate your wishes, for instance because you have had a stroke. Many people use an Advance Decision to refuse medical treatment. This choice is absolutely legal and provided for under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. An Advance Decision cannot be used to request an assisted death, as this is illegal.
Compassion in Dying provides an online service that allows anyone to create an Advance Decision to ensure your care and treatment preferences are respected. The MyDecisions website is completely free and easy to use.