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Assisted Dying Instructions ineffective in LPAs

11 Oct 2021

Assisted dying has been a complicated area of debate for many years, with various legal and ethical issues to weigh up. At present, it is a criminal offence for a person in the UK to encourage or assist the suicide of another person under the Suicide Act 1961.

Although it is possible to travel to another country, such as Switzerland to use the services of Dignitas, where assisted dying is legal, there are potential complications for anyone providing such assistance as it is often the case that those travelling to use the services are unable to do so alone due to medical complications. The risks for the accompanying individual(s) are:

  • Risk of prosecution – up to 14 years;
  • Risk of losing any inheritance under the Forfeiture Act 1982.

Notwithstanding the above, one of the further issues with assisted dying is determining whether someone actually wants to die. If an individual’s condition means that they are unable to communicate this, is it possible for their wishes regarding assisted dying to be communicated on their behalf?

Lasting Powers of Attorney (“LPAs”) are legal documents that allow individuals to appoint people to help make decisions on their behalf. They help give control over what happens if that person had an accident or an illness which meant they lacked mental capacity.

Assisted Dying

There are two types of LPA:

  1. Property and Financial Affairs; and
  2. Health and Welfare.

The Court has recently held that if an individual encourages their attorneys to assist their suicide, that part of the Health and Welfare LPA would be ineffective, as it would be encouraging an unlawful act. The other legal parts of the LPA would, however, remain effective.

Similarly, the Court also confirmed that it would not be effective to include wording to apply if assisted dying became legal in the UK in the future, as it is not possible to determine how the law may change in the future.

Therefore, any preferences or instructions to include within an LPA must be legal in order for them to be effective.

For more information on Lasting Powers of Attorneys, or how we can help you, please contact Tom Bridge, or call 0191 232 8345.