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Under the Suicide Act 1961 it is an offence for one person to encourage or assist the suicide (or attempted suicide) of another.  Suicide or attempted suicide are not in themselves criminal offences.

There have been several legal cases regarding the offence of assisted suicide, particularly in the context of disabled or terminally ill people who are unable to end their lives without assistance from family or friends.  Of particular relevance is the case of Debbie Purdy, who in July 2009 obtained a House of Lords ruling ordering the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to formulate an offence-specific policy setting out the public interest factors the Crown Prosecution Service will consider when deciding whether to prosecute assisted suicide offences.  The DPP’s policy was published in February 2010 following a public consultation.

In June 2014 the Supreme Court revisited the issue of assisted suicide in the cases of Tony Nicklinson, Paul Lamb and AM, who were seeking a declaration that the current law on assisted suicide was incompatible with their right to a private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  The Supreme Court decided against making such a declaration by a majority of seven to two.  It took the view that Parliament was the most appropriate forum for considering changes to the law on this particular issue. Following the Supreme Court decision, in July 2015, the European Court of Human rights dismissed applications from Jane Nicklinson and Paul Lamb.

Rob Marris MP, after being drawn first in the Private Member’s Bill ballot in this Parliament has tabled the Assisted Dying Bill (No 2) 2015 which will have its second reading on 11 September 2015.  The Bill aims to enable competent adults who are terminally ill to be allowed assistance with ending their life if they request it.  Previous attempts to change the law in this area include the Assisted Dying Bill 2014, tabled by Lord Falconer in the House of Lords that reached Committee Stage in the last Parliament.  Lord Falconer has also tabled the Assisted Dying Bill 2015 in this Parliament. 

The Government has indicated that it considers this issue to be a matter of individual conscience, it has traditionally been the subject of a free vote. 

This briefing paper will provide a background to the legal cases in this area and the DPP guidance on prosecutions for assisted suicide.  It will also include an overview of the Assisted Dying (No 2) Bill 2015, and a summary of the 2014 Assisted Dying Bill’s progress in the House of Lords in the last Parliamentary session.  A brief discussion of stakeholder views is also included.

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