Judges reject assisted suicide guidance

February 19, 2016

Judges have rejected a legal bid to force Scotland’s senior law officer to publish guidance over prosecution in cases of assisted suicide.

The case was brought by the late Gordon Ross, former treasurer of Humanist Society Scotland and Humanist Celebrant, who died on 13th January 2016.

Judges at the Court of Session in Edinburgh said criminal law in Scotland on assisted suicide was clear.

In September 2015, Lord Doherty, ruled not to compel the Lord Advocate to publish guidelines regarding assisting someone to take their own life, a decision which Mr. Ross then appealed.

In the judgement by the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Carloway, the most senior judge in Scotland, said:
“The criminal law in relation to assisted suicide in Scotland is clear. It is not a crime “to assist” another to commit suicide[…] There is no difficulty in understanding these concepts in legal terms, even if, as is often the case in many areas of the law, there may be grey areas worthy of debate in unusual circumstances.”

Responding to the judgement, Humanist Society Scotland Head of Communications and Public Affairs, Gary McLelland, said:
“This is a very disappointing result, and although we appreciate that Lord Carloway has tried to clarify the law around assisted suicide, we feel that many people in Scotland will still be unsure about what the law is.

“By refusing to compel the Lord Advocate to issue detailed guidance on the law around assisted suicide in Scotland, the Court of Session has continued the divergent approach from England and Wales, where guidance has been available since 2010. We will continue to campaign with our partners for a change in the law to allow those with life shortening condition the choice to end their life where they wish to.”

Responding to the decision, Humanist Society Scotland Celebrant Bob Scott, who is also a member of Friends At The End (FATE), said:
“Although Gordon died last month, his family, as wells as his friends at FATE and Humanist Society Scotland, had hoped that the appeal court judges would overturn the previous decision by the Court of Session and compel the Lord Advocate to issue detailed guidance on the law around assisted dying as exists in England. This would have been a fitting legacy after Gordon’s long legal fight and an opportunity for this issue to be.”

“This is a real slap in the face for those who wish to have a choice at the end of their lives and particularly to Gordon who fought long and hard to have the guidelines clarified. At the moment anyone helping a friend or loved one, who is suffering intolerably, to die faces a charge of murder or manslaughter.

“Gordon’s family are considering their position regarding the legal aspects of this decision but FATE and Humanist Society Scotland will continue Gordon’s fight to have the law changed and give the public more information about how a safe law could be enacted which protects vulnerable people and enhances the excellent palliative care already available in Scotland.”

Image Courtesy: Wikipedia, Creative Commons.

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