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Aug 2010

Right to die ruling

Debbie Purdy, who has Multiple Sclerosis, has won her case in the House of Lords to have the law clarified on assisted suicide. This is in relation to circumstances where a friend or family would be prosecuted in assisting someone to die.

This does not legalise assisted suicide or any kind of euthanasia, but would only provide a statement of policy from the Director of Public Prosecutions as to factors that will be taken into account as to whether he will prosecute in cases where people are helped by relatives to go abroad to commit suicide. The maximum penalty for assisting someone to end their life is fourteen years imprisonment. Issuing the guidance will take some time as it needs to have a public consultation before being published next year.

People have very strong wishes about circumstances in which they would not like to be resuscitated or receive certain medical treatment. We must stress that it is illegal to assist anyone from ending their own life but there are certain legally binding documents that you can prepare to set out your own wishes that medical professionals are bound to follow.

Lasting Power of Attorney – Welfare Decisions

A Lasting Power of Attorney enables you to appoint someone to make decisions on your behalf in relation to all welfare decisions about you if you are unable to make these decisions yourself. This would include decisions about where you should live, day to day decisions on your diet and wellbeing and also medical decisions. If you wish, your Attorney can make decisions about refusing medical treatment which can also including refusing any life sustaining medical treatment if you so direct. You can add guidance in the document setting out the circumstances where you would not wish to receive life sustaining treatment so that your Attorney can follow these wishes.

Advanced Decision

An Advance Decision (also known as a Living Will) is a document where you set out the circumstances in which you would or would not like to receive certain medical treatment. This differs from a Lasting Power of Attorney as you are not giving anyone the authority to make decisions on your behalf as it is only the circumstances set out in the document that medical practitioners have to follow. An Advance Decision will be overridden by a Lasting Power of Attorney where the Attorney has been given the authority to take decisions about life sustaining medical treatment

Advance Decisions are legally binding, but they have to be prepared in a prescribed form and contain sufficient information to be valid.

For further information please contact Jill MacMahon


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