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Murder law and mercy killing

Comment 13th July 2010


To update murder law so that a person who ends the life of another for compassionate reasons and at their request, is not treated the same way as a malicious murderer.

Why does this matter?


There is a clear ethical difference between compassionately motivated ‘mercy killing’ and murder, but this is not recognised by the law. 

Mercy killing is direct action to end a person’s life for compassionate reasons; and murder is a malicious, self-serving act which results in the death of another. 

At the moment these very different scenarios result in the same punishment – life imprisonment. This is unfair and unjust. All of these cases should be investigated by the police, but the law should treat them differently. People who act compassionately to end the suffering of someone they love, who are not a danger to the public and who are extremely unlikely to reoffend, should not face the same punishment as those who commit murder from malice, anger or greed.

The Law Commission reviewed murder law in 2006. It recommended that further review was needed in relation to whether there should be a partial defence to murder of  ‘mercy killing’, or whether ‘mercy killing’ should be a separate crime altogether. The report also recommended that the crime of murder should be split into first degree and second degree categories, to recognise that in certain circumstances greater flexibility in sentencing is needed.

The coalition Government must now take up these recommendations.  

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