The debate regarding euthanasia and assisted dying in the UK is controversial and heart-breaking. To begin, it is important to define the terms and the distinction between them: euthanasia is the act of deliberately ending a person's life to relieve their suffering, while Assisted Suicide is the act of assisting or encouraging another person to kill themselves. There are two types of euthanasia, active and passive. The first requires positive action to end a person's life, the second involves withdrawing or withholding treatment which keeps them alive.

Euthanasia is also classified as voluntary or non-voluntary: in voluntary euthanasia, the subject consciously requests help to die. In non-voluntary euthanasia, the subject is unable to give their consent because they are in a state lacking mental capacity, e.g. coma, and another person takes the decision on their behalf.

The current legal position

Active euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal under English law. The first is regarded as either manslaughter or murder with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, and the second is punishable with up to 14 years in prison. However, due to the number of people applying to courts to have the position on assisted suicide reviewed, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has issued a series of new guidelines.

These guidelines clarify a more lenient position: each case of assisted suicide will be considered specifically and decided by the DPP whether to be prosecuted based on significant factors, concentrating primarily on the autonomy of the subject and whether they made the decision to die independently, requesting help, or were unduly pressured.

In past cases, where a loved one has acted only out of compassion on the request of his/her partner, for example, the DPP has decided not to prosecute.

The two sides of the debate

Those who still feel that assisted dying should remain illegal cite their concern about the possibility of euthanasia replacing high quality end of life care.

Many feel that vulnerable people will be put in a difficult position and feel a burden, and that the government may reduce funding for palliative care if faced with the option of a cheaper alternative. However, the campaign umbrella group Dignity in Dying cites evidence that in jurisdictions where the option is available, there have been no cases of abuse and no widening of the scope beyond the limited necessity. Also, palliative care options remain first and foremost available and must be considered when any requests for assisted dying are made. According to statistics, 82% of the British public support a choice of assisted dying for adults who are terminally ill. They feel that one should, above all, be able to choose when to die, with respect for how they spend their last days.

The campaign continues

Although MPs voted in 2015 against a Bill which legalised assisted dying for terminally ill adults, campaigners are trying to persuade the courts to declare that the criminalisation of acts assisting someone who wishes to die is incompatible with human rights. This would force Parliament to reconsider. One of a group of faith leaders supporting the move, Rabbi Dr Romain states: "we hope MPs will revisit the issue at a future debate." The director of the campaign group Friends at the End, Dr Michael Irwin perseveres: "The fight goes on." #AssistedDying