The law in England and Wales
Dignity in Dying works within the law at all times. The 1961 Suicide Act and, amended by the 2009 Coroners and Justice Act, makes it 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
The 1966 Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Act, as amended by the 2009 Coroners and Justice Act, makes it 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.
Much like 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.
The law in Scotland
There is no law against assisted dying in Scotland, but nor is assisted dying legal in Scotland. The Court of Session in February 2016 identified that the only crimes that a person may be convicted of in assisting someone to take their own life would be those of culpable homicide or public order offences. Helping someone to travel overseas to gain access to medical assistance to die was explicitly stated as unlikely to bring a prosecution. There is, however, no legal route to access assisted dying in Scotland and doctors are unable to provide assistance.
Dignity in Dying’s offices are in London and registered as a company in England and Wales. We are unable to provide assistance or advice to people in Scotland who wish to take their own lives.
Tell your story
Telling personal stories can be extremely powerful. We are building a network of people willing to share their experience to help us strengthen the case for law change.
We know stories are very personal, so rest assured that we will not publicise anything until we have spoken to you and you’ve given your final approval.
If you have something to share please let us know using the form below.Share your story
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.