Helping someone to end their life is a criminal offence, and in England and Wales carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison under the Suicide Act 1961. In Northern Ireland, it is also banned under the Criminal Justice Act 1966. There is no specific crime for assisted dying in Scotland, but it is possible that someone can be prosecuted for murder or culpable homicide.

The Director of Public Prosecutions will bring a case against someone accused of assisting another to die, when it is in the ‘public interest’ to do so. Since 2010, prosecutors have decided this in accordance with the DPP’s guidance on assisted dying. Similar guidance also exists in Northern Ireland, but not in Scotland. However, even if someone is not criminally prosecuted, they can still be penalised for helping another to die, by having their inheritance withheld under the Forfeiture Act 1982. 

As the law stands, the only way that someone can legally end their life with medical oversight is through the barbaric process of voluntary stopping eating and drinking, or by refusing life-saving medication. Doctors can only help ease someone’s suffering by providing pain relief, or removing medical treatment and letting them die naturally.