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. Following the late Debbie Purdy’s case in 2009, the Director of Public Prosecutions in England and Wales has published guidelines that list factors that will tend towards or tend against the likelihood that a prosecution will be brought. The full list of factors can be found on the Crown Prosecution Service website.
The law in Northern Ireland is essentially identical to that in England and Wales. The Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland has published a prosecution policy for cases of assisted suicide. The full list of factors can be found on the PPSNI website.
There is no law against assisted dying in Scotland, but nor is assisted dying legal in Scotland. There is no legal route to access assisted dying in Scotland and doctors are unable to provide assistance.
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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.