Peer-Reviewed Journal Details
Mandatory Fields
Eimear Spain
Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly
Love in Life and Death
In Press
Optional Fields
Euthanasia, end-of-life decisions, assisted dying, criminal law

The issue of assisted dying is once again in the public consciousness given several recent high profile cases challenging the legal prohibition on assisted dying in jurisdictions on both sides of the Atlantic. In June 2012 the Supreme Court of British Columbia declared the relevant provisions of the Canadian Criminal Code which prohibited assisted dying invalid as they unjustifiably infringed the plaintiff’s rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Almost contemporaneously, the High Court of England and Wales heard a case in which it was argued that it would not be unlawful for a doctor to terminate the plaintiff’s life or assist him in terminating his life on the basis of the defence of necessity. Further or alternatively, the plaintiff asserted that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights is infringed by the current criminal law of England and Walesin so far as it criminalises voluntary active euthanasia and/or assisted suicide”.These cases raise many important issues for the criminal law, among them the role of the courts in deciding important moral and ethical debates and the proper balance to be struck between the desire to protect the sanctity of life principle and the most vulnerable on the one hand with the desire to respect individual autonomy and display compassion on the other. Central to any debate on this topic are the emotions which motivate those involved in assisted dying. It is difficult to imagine a more emotionally charged event than the taking of life, particularly the life of a loved one who is suffering, a fact often acknowledged by the courts. Yet, the courts, review bodies and commissions, legislators and commentators have yet to place the emotions at the centre of the debate. This article focuses on the role which emotions play in end of life decisions and the proper legal response to such decisions given the strong emotions which motivate them.

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