Assisted Dying Bill: Having control over your own destiny

Assisted dying
Assisted dying

Berkhamsted solicitors Sumner & Tabor take a look at the private members bill known as the Assisted Dying Bill.

The Private Members Bill known as the Assisted Dying Bill was debated in the House of Lords on 18th July 2014.

The proposed legislation would make it legal for adults in England and Wales to be given assistance to end their own life. It would apply to patients judged to have less than six months to live and two doctors would have to independently confirm that the patient was terminally ill and had reached their own informed decision to die. Doctors would then be allowed to prescribe a lethal dose.

Currently, the 1961 Suicide Act makes it an offence to encourage or assist a suicide or a suicide attempt in England and Wales.

Anyone doing so could face up to 14 years in prison. Previous attempts to legalise assisted dying have been rejected but the current Bill has influential supporters, such as the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, who has recently spoken out in favour of the Bill despite having previously opposed it. It has been said that this reflects a public shift of opinion towards legalisation.

The debate on 18th July lasted 10 hours and the House of Lords was evenly divided. The Bill will next be debated in the House of Commons.

While we all wait and see if the Bill ever becomes law, there are legal documents you can put in place now to legally retain some control over your choice of medical treatment and healthcare when, in the future, you are too ill to be able to make or communicate decisions.

You can, for example, create an Advance Decision (previously known as a Living Will). An Advance Decision documents your decision to refuse specified medical treatment, including life-sustaining treatment, in particular circumstances. Just like a Will, it will be legally binding if drawn up and signed correctly.

Since 2007 it has also been possible to draw up a Lasting Power of Attorney appointing a person or people to have authority to make decisions on your behalf with regard to your health and welfare, should you be unable to make such decisions for yourself. This Lasting Power of Attorney includes an option to give your attorneys authority to make decisions on your behalf regarding life-sustaining treatment.

If you would like to discuss setting up your own Advance Decisions and/or Health and Welfare Lasting Powers of Attorney, please contact Josie Birnie on 01442 872311.