Birmingham Post Legal column

Birmingham Post Legal column 
24 June, 2013


Recently, my friend’s cat was put down due to cancer. There were no lawyers involved – just the vet, the cat and its owner.

While it is generally accepted that the terminal suffering of animals should not be prolonged, there is still much debate about whether humans should have the same assistance.

Section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961 makes it illegal to assist another to commit suicide, a crime punishable as either murder or manslaughter.  The debate as to whether this should remain so has been the subject of much discussion and a number of understandably high profile cases.

On the one hand there are the sufferers – and those supporting them – wanting to put an end to their suffering, but unable to do so, usually due to the disabling nature of their illness.  On the other are those who see any change to the law on assisted suicide as an attack on the sanctity of human life and possibly the start of a slippery slope to more generalised euthanasia.

On both sides are the lawyers who carefully and skilfully distil the complex arguments for both sides and present them to the judges who, with equal skill and diligence, summarise the arguments and pronounce their judgements.

Whether or not there will ever be an argument of such force that the government is persuaded that assisted suicide should no longer be a crime remains to be seen. However, what is clear is that such a change would mark a significant shift not just legally, but culturally, for some more than others.

While a pet has no choice in relation to its own circumstances, I suspect that people will continue to fight for the right of assistance to end their own lives for some time to come.

Martin Allsopp is president of Birmingham Law Society