Five words for Assisted Dying

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Motivated by Lord Joffe's Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill, but with one eye on any possible future legislation, I consider the justifications that might be offered for limiting assistance in dying to those who are suffering unbearably from terminal illness. I argue that the terminal illness criterion and the unbearable suffering criterion are not morally defensible separately: that a person need be neither terminally ill (or ill at all), nor suffering unbearably (or suffering at all) to have a right to assisted dying. Indeed: I shall suggest that the unbearable suffering criterion undermines the Bill (or any proposal like it) wholesale. On the other hand, the criteria taken together are defensible, and this defence would be built on a concern for the protection of the vulnerable. However, I also claim that this implies that the law might justifiably-and maybe even properly-aim to prevent a person from gaining access to that to which they have a serious moral right. This seems paradoxical, and, towards the end of the paper, I seek to tease apart the paradox. © 2008 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)415-444
Number of pages29
JournalLaw and Philosophy
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2008


  • Assisted suicide
  • Autonomy
  • Euthanasia
  • Suffering
  • Terminal illness


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