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Court of Appeal upholds s.2(1) Suicide Act in Conway v. Secretary of State for Justice [2018] EWCA Civ 1431

27th June 2018

It is a criminal offence to assist another person to commit suicide.  The Court of Appeal has today rejected a challenge to this offence brought under art 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case raises key constitutional and ethical questions.  Parliament has repeatedly rejected attempts to change the law to allow assisted suicide.  The Court of Appeal had to identify the boundary of when a court can intervene to overturn the clear position of a legislative body (recently considered by the Supreme Court in relation to abortion in Northern Ireland).  This judgment concludes that Parliament is a far better body to determine the difficult policy issue of assisted suicide.

The challenge to section 2 set out proposed procedures for someone seeking to end their life.  The Court of Appeal identifies difficulties with that scheme including the practical limits to the ability of courts to implement it and the fact that risks would remain.  The judgment considers the relevance of approaches in other countries, the importance of the doctor-patient relationship, practical difficulties of ending someone’s life, assessment of capacity, the risk of incremental extension and the position of medical associations.

Underlying these debates are fundamental ethical principles of the sanctity of life (and the protection of people who consider their right to life under threat) and personal autonomy.

David Lawson represented Care Not Killing, an intervener in the claim.  He was instructed by Barlow Robbins LLP.

A copy of the judgment can be found here.

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