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UK court rejects challenge to law on assisted dying

High Court of Justice
[JURIST] The High Court of Justice [official website] on Thursday rejected [judgment, PDF] a terminally ill individual’s petition for assistance to die, upholding the Suicide Act 1961 [text], which makes it illegal to assist in suicide.

Noel Conway, who suffers from terminal motor neurone disease, argued that the Suicide Act 1961 is in conflict with Article 8 of the Human Rights Act of 1998 [texts] by undermining his right to respect of private and family life through a blanket ban on assisted suicide. Opposing counsel however argued that the act satisfied section 2 of Article 8 as “necessary in a democratic society” as a proportionate measure “for the protection of health,” for the protection of morals” and “for the protection of the rights of others.”

The court ruled that the act was necessary “to protect the weak and vulnerable”:

As the conscience of the nation, Parliament is entitled to maintain in place a clear bright-line rule which forbids people from providing assistance to an individual to commit suicide. Parliament was and is entitled to decide that the clarity of such a moral position could only be achieved by means of such a rule. Although views about this vary in society, we think that the legitimacy of Parliament deciding to maintain such a clear line that people should not seek to intervene to hasten the death of a human is not open to serious doubt. Parliament is entitled to make the assessment that it should protect moral standards in society by issuing clear and unambiguous laws which reflect and embody such standards. The prohibition in section 2 achieves a fair balance between the interests of the wider community and the interests of people in the position of Mr Conway.

In March a UK court of appeals had declined [JURIST report] to allow Conway the right to seek his own death, finding that it was “institutionally inappropriate” to determine incompatibility between the pieces of legislation.

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