Wednesday, January 11, 2006

On the illegality of suicide

Italicised text is from the Nameless Tory, plain text is mine. Comments very welcome, we are both feelign our way through this issue

Suicide must be illegal. Discuss.

Legality of suicide; well, why? The usual reason to make an act illegal is to attach penalties to it, as a deterrent. Is there any evidence that making suicide illegal is a deterrent? The likes of Diane Pretty should have the right to voluntary assisted suicide, as she could not have undertaken the task herself. We treat dogs better.

I am sure you will come back with a devastating counter-argument based on something obvious that I have missed.

There is a difference, I think, between someone who is terminally ill and going to die in terrible pain and someone who is going to take their own life owing to a disturbance of their mind/mental illness.

I support assisted suicide (as long as it is regulated) and the right of someone who is terminally ill to take their own life. That’s not to say I think it is right, but then again that’s not the point, is it? The reason why I would consider arguing (and I need to think this through a lot more myself as it is an idea that has only just occurred to me) for illegal suicide is twofold.

Firstly, people who take their own lives are probably disturbed on some level or at least suffering from some sort of mental impairment. Therefore they perhaps do not have the ability to make such a fundamental choice as to whether to die or not. Now I'm not saying everyone who is suicidal is mental, but the desire to die indicates that the balance of the mind has been disturbed. The legislation could require those who are suicidal to be hospitalised whilst their rationality is assessed. Whether you would keep them in custody or release them when they were declared to be sane (and the legal definition of sanity is a whole different can of worms) is open to debate, especially if they claimed suicide was still their intention.

I don't think the threat of forced hospitalisation would act as a deterrent; after all, your intention, if you are serious about suicide, is death. Imprisonment is irrelevant. What I was more thinking about in terms of a deterrence is to try to stop the cry for help scenarios – people who attempt suicide but have no intention of dying. This is a drain on the resources of the NHS, and a fundamentally selfish thing to do. A lot of the cry for help cases are actually a cry for attention. Just as there is a charge of wasting police time surely there could be a charge of wasting hospital time? Problematic and difficult to enforce, I know, but worth considering.

Is there a criminal offence of wasting hospital resources? If so, Munchausen's Syndrome is legally actionable....


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