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Suicide represents a major problem in today's society. There are more than 4,500 self-inflicted deaths every year in England and it has been identified as one of the leading cause of death among men under the age of 45.
In October 2018, the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, appointed the world's first minister for suicide prevention, recognising that suicide is a significant challenge facing the UK today. In this context, it is vital for the law to provide clarity and guidance on the issue. However, the law's response to suicide is confused, largely because suicide poses an unusually ambiguous challenge to the law. In one sense, and in certain circumstances, suicide may be an autonomous choice to end one's life. Indeed, it may be regarded as the most important exercise of bodily autonomy made during an individual's lifetime. On the other hand, and in different circumstances, suicide may be a tragic end to a human life which may signify a failure on the part of others to remedy the mental fragility or unendurable suffering of a vulnerable individual. Often, suicide is a result of mental illness; often, it is preventable.
So, how is the law to regulate such a choice: as an exercise of autonomy to be respected?; or as a tragic symptom to be treated? This book uses a normative process of doctrinal analysis and utilises a historical and socio-legal perspective. The historical focus looks at the beginning of the 19th century to the present day, encompassing the gradual moves towards legal tolerance of suicide and attempted suicide, as well as the enduring legal issues post-legalisation, such as the evolving perception of the public interest (or lack of it) in prosecuting the offence of assisted suicide, and the increased significance of a legally enforceable right to autonomy in matters of life and death.