In 2009 the legislature, judges and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) each turned their attention to issues around assisted suicide. The legislature decided not to change the law. The judges decided the existing law was insufficiently clear and required the Director to clarify it. The Director flirted with reforming the law, but then drew back from such a legislative role. His published prosecution policy has been considered as a contribution to the regulation of death and dying, and as such has been found wanting. However, considered in the context of the proper roles of Parliament, courts and prosecutors, and seen as an exercise in constitutional restraint, the Director's approach should be appraised rather differently. From this perspective, the decision of the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords in R (Purdy) v DPP raises significant concerns for the legitimacy of decision making in the contested moral issues that arise in healthcare ethics. In our democracy, courts should be wary of usurping legislative authority in areas where the Parliamentary position is clear. They should be reluctant to take sides in the protracted war over access to a ‘good death’.
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