uneasiness surrounding the law. The Uncertainty continued until the
case, whicheventually led to the development of theDirector of PublicProsecutions guidelines. KeirStarmer QC, DPP, said, what it does is to provide a clear framework for prosecutors todecide which cases should proceed to court and which should not.
Proponents for legalization argue there exist Inconsistencies and double standards in thecurrent law. For example a doctors
use of drugs to reduce pain will often be justified notwithstanding that this will hasten the moment of death
This is known as the doctrine of double effect. What is the difference between prescribing drugs that will ease a personssuffering but kill them in five years and prescribing drugs which lead to death instantly? Bothsituations lead to death, yet the latter is prohibited. This doctrine is also in conflict withordinary principles of criminal law. The House of Lords in
that a person has therequisite
for murder if they engage in conduct, which is virtually certain to causedeath. Williams believes,
‘when a result is foreseen as certain, it is the same as if it wereintended or desired’
However, a doctor may dispense drugs to ease a persons suffering,knowing fully well that it will hasten death. That does not mean that the doctor intends ordesires the
death despite knowing that it is a virtual certainty. Does this mean thatthere are problems in basic criminal law itself?Wilkinson sheds further light on this troubled area, he states that no one knows what isgoing on inside the doctors head when he is administering the drugs
. Therefore, ‘the
acceptance of this doctrine might make it possible to kill patients intentionally whilst
intending that there death is an unintended side effect’.
It is a well-established principle that a competent patient has the right to refuse treatmenteven if their refusal will lead to their death.
The issue is as Pattinson states,
a doctor, whocomplies with a valid refusal of treatment,
.: stopping a ventilator or food supply)
is not viewed as actively ending or assisting i
n the ending of a patient’s life
. In contrast a doctor
Lord Donaldson in Re J (Wardship medical treatment) (1991) 2 WLR 140,
R v Woolin (1999) 1 AC 82 HL
Glanville Williams, Sanctity of Life and the Criminal Law (Faber London 1957) 286
, ‘Palliative care and the doctrine of double effect’, in Donna Dickenson, Malcolm
Johnson, and Jeanne Samson Katz (eds), Death, Dying and Bereavement, (2nd Ed Sage London 2000)299-302.
See, Lord Goff’s judgment,
In Airedale NHS Trust v Bland (1993) AC 789Also see, British Medical Association guidance to doctors; Withholding and withdrawing lifeprolonging treatment: guidance for decision making (2
Ed 2001) paras 9.1-9.3Also see, Ms B v An NHS Trust EWHC 429