Law Pod UK: Latest Episode

21 February 2022 by

“A Decent Death” is the title of an article written by former Court of Appeal judge Stephen Sedley, and published in the London Review of Books, to which Sir Sedley is a frequent contributor.

In Episode 158 of Law Pod UK, Rosalind English considers the points made by Sir Stephen in his erudite and forthright column with Trevor Moore, Chair of the assisted dying campaign My Death, My Decision.

With clips from Sir Stephen’s presentation of his talk, we consider the contradictions in the law which still renders assisted dying a criminal offence, but allowed Coronavirus restrictions to be lifted to enable people to travel to end their lives at Dignitas in Switzerland; the stressful possibility faced by relatives returning from Switzerland that they are at risk of being prosecuted under the 1961 Suicide Act, and the constant buck-passing of reforms to this Act between the courts and Parliament.

As Sir Stephen commented in his talk, the “historical anathema”, of punishing either unsuccessful suicides or their families, lives on in the undifferentiated crime of assisting a person to commit suicide.

The present-day offence fails – signally – to differentiate between the intervener who, out of self-interest or perversion, helps to ensure that a suicide attempt succeeds, and the individual who, out of compassion, gives a rational fellow being the help he or she needs to end a life that has become medically unbearable.

For those of you who have listened to this episode, here is another reflection from Sir Stepen, on the obligation on family members returning from Switzerland, to protect themselves from prosecution under the Suicide Act by reporting themselves to the police.

On self-incrimination, I think there’s possibly more to be said. The senior police officer or crown prosecutor whose desk the case reaches may be personally (even doctrinally) hostile and decide – armed now with a full ‘confession’ given in the hope of clemency under the DPP’s policy – to prosecute. In that event there is no defence of compassion; the jury may have to convict. I find this a terrifying scenario.

Stephen Sedley

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