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Assisted suicide and capital punishment: a mirror image?
  1. Matthew Doré1,2
  1. 1 Palliative Care, Northern Ireland Hospice, Belfast, UK
  2. 2 Palliative Medicine, HCS Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, Belfast, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Matthew Doré, Palliative care, Northern Ireland Hospice, Belfast BT43EZ, UK; matthew.dore{at}


Objectives To outline the jurisprudential position in UK law regarding capital punishment, the death penalty and contrast this with proposed legislation for assisted dying and euthanasia (AD/E).

Methods A historical medico-legal jurisprudential research approach, focusing on investigating the case law which resulted in the eventual cessation of capital punishment and contrasting this with the arguments used in current proposed legislation for AD/E.

Results As a society, we are confronted with a similar choice in AD/E as we did in the 1960s with capital punishment, where it has demonstrated, despite a full judiciary process with a jury, that incorrect decisions have been made, resulting in death. In the context of two doctors making irrevocable decisions with prognosis uncertain, diagnostic errors and autonomy being relational—influenced by how others behave towards us—even campaigners for AD/E admit errors are inevitable. Some will have lethal drugs under a wrong diagnosis, an incorrect timespan or coercive pressures; is this cost acceptable?

Conclusion If the abolition of capital punishment is hard won, with the risk set that no one incorrectly should die, is this the standard that should be set for lethal drugs today? Is the right to choose so important that others’ lives lost are an acceptable cost to pay? If we do accept a radical individual autonomy ethos, what proportion of incorrect deaths is acceptable?

  • Ethics
  • End of life care
  • Clinical decisions

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  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.