The Ethics and Legality of Assisted Dying

A Critical Analysis of Regulatory Frameworks, Human Rights Implications, and Impact on Vulnerable Groups


  • Samuel Smith



Suicide Act 1961, Medical assistance in dying, Death with Dignity Act 1997, Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act 2001, Right to die


This study considered the contentious issue of legalising assisted dying in the United Kingdom (UK), examining arguments for and against, analysing legal frameworks in the UK, Canada, the Netherlands, and Oregon, and considering the influence of human rights on the debate. This research aimed to propose recommendations regarding the potential legalisation of assisted dying in the UK and its scope.

The study critically assessed various perspectives, revealing the multifaceted nature of the debate. Despite attempts to change legislation, the UK’s legal framework has remained mostly unchanged, with minimal prosecutions for assisted dying. The experience of other jurisdictions that have legalised assisted dying have been mostly positive but are not without criticism. The Netherlands allows for children as young as 12 to receive assistance and Canada has very permissive guidelines, allowing for patients with non-terminal illnesses, and soon mental illnesses, to request assisted dying.

Despite several cases arguing that prohibitions on assisted dying infringe human rights, it has been held that they are not disproportionate. The impact on vulnerable groups was found to be minimal without increased risks compared to the general population. The findings of this project indicate the need for careful consideration of assisted dying to ensure all views are considered, the frameworks of other jurisdictions are learned from, and vulnerable populations are respected and protected. It is recommended that assisted dying be legalised in the UK in limited circumstances for people with terminal illnesses, and slowly expanded over time.