Should we legalize assisted suicide for prisoners?

Every so often we hear a call to make assisted suicide available to prisoners. The latest comes from a young British doctor and bioethicist, Christian Browne.

Writing on the Oxford University blog Practical Ethics, Browne argues that the plight of prisoners is essentially the same as the terminally ill. A life sentence behind bars is the same as unbearable suffering. So why shouldn’t they be allowed the privilege assisted suicide if it were legal?  Without it, prisoners will end up committing suicide in a more painful ways.

Furthermore, prison doctors – whose role is to alleviate suffering – are complicit in prolonging prisoners’ torment: “an undignified and torturous existence serving a life of suicidal solitude could be avoided”.

Finally, society would benefit as well: “the financial cost of maintaining an individual who’ll never leave the justice system would be saved”.

Australia’s leading euthanasia activist, Dr Philip Nitschke, contributed a comment to the article.  He agreed and argued that denying “lifers” the option of assisted suicide is a form of state sanctioned torture. "The humane response it to provide the means for a peaceful reliable death to those prisoners who request it", he said.

This article is published by Xavier Symons and BioEdge.org under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

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