End-of-Life Law and Assisted Dying in the 21st Century: Time for Cautious Revolution?

Student thesis: Phd


In the medical context, it is an accepted (yet controversial) fact that doctors may sometimes legitimately hasten death when providing palliative care to dying patients. Or even, in relation to treatment decisions leading to withdrawal or omission, some doctors may choose death over life for certain patients and yet we seldom hear of doctors in the dock for intentional killing. Where complicity in suicide is concerned, it seems that the compassionate lay person has little reason to be fearful of criminal reprisal. The question, however, of whether a person suspected of complicity in suicide, or a doctor suspected of intentionally causing the death of a patient, will be greeted by sympathy or condemnation is a legal minefield. A range of diverse legal, moral and circumstantial factors will determine firstly, whether one is prosecuted and secondly, whether one will be subject to juridical disapproval and possible incarceration. This thesis sets out to explore whether continued obfuscation, together with turning a blind eye to possible breaches of the law, is the best approach to the moral dilemma over what should be permitted in assisted dying and end-of-life law. This is not a rhetorical question with a trite answer. Such obfuscation may be viewed as having certain advantages. This thesis explores the legal and ethical issues in the context of recent developments, societal concerns and international influences in order to examine whether the current legal position in respect of homicide and complicity in suicide is tenable. The analysis invites the conclusion that whilst some legal change is both desirable and necessary, any legal reform should seek to facilitate a cautious compromise that reflects the legitimate concerns of those opposed to legal change.
Date of Award1 Aug 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJohn Coggon (Supervisor)


  • Assisted Suicide
  • Assisted Dying
  • End-of-life Law

Cite this