Skip to main content

A change in the law will place the vulnerable at risk.

Dr Mark Bratton, Associate Fellow in Medical Ethics and Law at Warwick Medical School, on why he believes assisted dying should not be made legal.

"As I write, the House of Commons is giving the Assisted Dying Bill its second reading. It is the latest stage of a sustained effort to change the law on assisted suicide by legislative means stretching back to the early years of this century. Currently, the ban on assisted suicide is legally absolute in the UK. A number of highly publicised legal cases and parliamentary attempts to change the law have so far failed. This means that those who want to choose the manner and timing of their own deaths are compelled to travel abroad to jurisdictions where the law is more liberal.

"The pressure for legal change is the result of a combination of three principal factors. Firstly, advances in medical technology have enabled people to survive well beyond the point where life ceases to have meaning for them. Secondly, the principle of personal autonomy has become a bioethical principle of first rank, qualifying the traditional commitment to the principle of the sanctity of life. Thirdly, rights and human rights have become the ethical lingua franca of the modern West. These shifting judicial, parliamentary, social and historical contexts provide the wider canvas against which the latest effort to liberalise the law must be set.

"Although the arguments for and against the liberalisation of the suicide legislation and criminal law of murder in this area are well rehearsed, I believe a change in the law will affect the moral ecology of our nation in profound and subtle ways, placing the vulnerable at risk. The law has, generally speaking, great expressive or 'sign' value and to change it in the context of euthanasia and assisted suicide will influence public attitudes for the worse. Moreover, the determined drive to seek legal change is borne of a deep cultural impatience with the idea of dependency and a corresponding attraction to notions of autonomy as self-determination. These attitudes represent for me a perverse denial of the fact that we are all are born into dependency, we all rely on the goodwill of others even when we are in our prime, and dependency for all of us is a necessary feature of our senior years. The advocates of the Bill seem determined to overlook this constitutive feature of our humanity."

For further details please contact Nicola Jones, Communications Manager, University of Warwick 07824 540863 or