Last January, the Justice Committee reported on the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill which is even now being debated in parliament. It was noted that the Committee couldn’t provide details about the legal rules regarding those who assist with suicide in Scotland. The vagueness of the wording means that prosecution is possible in certain unspecified circumstances. As such, anyone dealing with this ethical dilemma after the fact cannot rule out the chances of facing criminal charges as a result of their actions.
Confusion in the Law
There is a severe lack of prosecutorial guidance on the subject within Scottish Law. While human rights legislation regulates the specific circumstances for prosecuting an individual who assisted with suicide in England, there is no similar law in Scotland. Even the English Suicide Act 1961 states precisely when aiding in a suicide amounts to a criminal offence. Again, Scottish Law falls drastically short in this area.
Lengthy Legal Limbo
As such, an individual awaiting the consequences of assisting a friend or loved one’s passing has nothing to do but wait. The Lord Advocate will decide what to do and then the courts will have to respond before that individual will know precisely what their next actions will be. While hiring a lawyer can help, the vagueness of the law presents several issues for both defendants and legal advisors.
The Path to Clarification
With the Bill currently in debate, the best course of action would be for MSPs to address these problems and clarify the legal details of this complicated moral challenge. If this occurs before the Bill passes Stage 1, those prosecuted will have a far better idea of how to proceed. If the Bill fails though, it is hoped that this issue continues to be discussed so that the law eventually becomes clearer about this difficult subject area.