The relationship between health and welfare Lasting Power of Attorneys and assisted suicide

The relationship between health and welfare LPAs and assisted suicide

Assisted suicide forms a controversial and complicated debate, with some saying choosing when to end your life is dying with dignity and others saying it undermines the value of human life.

Assisted suicide is illegal in the UK with many people choosing to travel to Switzerland to arrange their suicide and it is believed that one British person travels to Dignitas to die every eight days. It is understood that the process for arranging this involves in-depth interviews and meetings to understand the process and what this would involve so as to ensure the option of assisted suicide is not abused.

However, with the increase in health and welfare Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs), with 600,000 being registered in 2016 alone, it raises the question about the relationship between health and welfare LPAs and assisted suicide. 

In a recent case, a client has appointed one of their children to make health and welfare decisions. The client has already made arrangements with Dignitas so that all they need do is to implement the decision by phone call to Dignitas to arrange an appropriate time. However, what happens if the client loses capacity and is unable to travel to Switzerland unaided? The child would then be open to possible criminal prosecution for aiding the travel of their parent, even though they made the decision themselves whilst they still had capacity. Nevertheless, if the child did not follow their parents’ wishes, would they be acting in their parent’s best interests requirement required under the LPA? 

This is a controversial and somewhat grey area of the law which, it is hoped, will be clarified by the current case in the law Courts of Noel Conway. Noel is a terminally ill retired lecturer suffering with motor neurone disease and has recently begun an appeal against assisted suicide being illegal. He is seeking a declaration that section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961 is an interference with his human right to respect for his private life. The outcome of his appeal is awaited.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch with our Private Client Team for further advice and guidance on Lasting Powers of Attorney.