chapter  9
30 Pages


Death is a taboo subject in contemporary society and it raises many difficult ethical and legal issues. Medical advances mean that more people can be kept alive for longer, and this merely highlights the problems. When does someone die? Is the principle of the sanctity of human life paramount and should all means be used to keep people alive, whatever the cost, or should there be limits on the use of scarce medical resources to keep people alive? This question is particularly relevant to babies born with severe brain damage: should they be allowed to die? Is there a right to life and a right to die? Are there legal and moral differences between killing and letting die? How should the criminal law deal with ‘mercy killing’? There are also the difficult questions about the ‘quality of life’ of patients with terminal illnesses. What of the position of patients in a ‘persistent vegetative state’; should treatment be withdrawn? To what extent does the Human Rights Act 1998 help to protect peoples’ rights? This chapter will examine these issues. However, there are no simple resolutions to most of them.