First of all, I have no law background whatsoever, so be free to tell if I am completely wrong.

As I understood it, 2nd article of the Human Rights Act gives the right to live. This right is called absolute, which means that I cannot renounce this right, hence when I try to commit suicide law enforcement is allowed to prevent it, even if I tell them not to. This brings me to the "Do not resuscitate"-request that can be given by patients. While I wholely support this measure, I was wondering why this does not violate our absolute human right to live. What is the backdoor used or have I understood this completely wrong?

  • 1
    Just out of curiosity, have you read Article 2 recently? PS Welcome to LSE, and congratulations on asking a nice first question.
    – Just a guy
    Aug 30, 2020 at 2:14
  • I read it online, but it seemed to have no explicit mention of it being an absolute right. So, I assumed it was mentioned somewhere else. Aug 30, 2020 at 8:46
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    Article 2 is not absolute, it is a qualified right - it has caveats or exceptions. Article 3 (prohibition of torture) is an example of an absolute right.
    – Lag
    Aug 31, 2020 at 19:32

2 Answers 2


The closest thing to direct case law is Pretty v. UK, where plaintiff sought the assistance of her husband in committing suicide because of suffering from motor neuron disease. In this case, the issue is that UK law forbids another party from assisting in the commission of suicide. Para. 40 of the ruing says

The Court accordingly finds that no right to die, whether at the hands of a third person or with the assistance of a public authority, can be derived from Article 2 of the Convention. It is confirmed in this view by the recent Recommendation 1418 (1999) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (see paragraph 24 above).

and immediately above that

these aspects are recognised as so fundamental to the human condition that they require protection from State interference, they may be reflected in the rights guaranteed by other Articles of the Convention, or in other international human rights instruments. Article 2 cannot, without a distortion of language, be interpreted as conferring the diametrically opposite right, namely a right to die; nor can it create a right to self-determination in the sense of conferring on an individual the entitlement to choose death rather than life.

Nevertheless, The Suicide Act 1961 which abrogated the common law criminal nature of suicide is still the law. Parliament has not enacted a law that obligates a person to live.

All medical treatment is performed with consent (including implied consent in emergency cases); UK law say something about the nature of that consent. For one, consent is, necessarily, freely given, so without a special legal mandate that obligates medical treatment irrespective of consent, you have to consent to life-saving or any other treatment. The law allows you to make that decision in advance of the last minute as long as certain things are true (having to do with your medical situation, capacity to consent, proper form of consent). If we leave aside the specifics of advance DNR decisions, no law has been enacted to obligate a person to be treated in order to save their life.

The right to X fundamentally means the right to choose to X, which is different from an obligation to do X. The UK has not enacted an obligation-to-live law, and the Human Rights Act does not mandate that it creates such a law. The act simply says that in interpreting acts of government, the courts must respect the right to life as outlined in Art. 2 Schedule 1.

Incidentally, what the act says is

Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law. No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction of a crime for which this penalty is provided by law.

Deprivation of life shall not be regarded as inflicted in contravention of this Article when it results from the use of force which is no more than absolutely necessary:

(a)in defence of any person from unlawful violence;

(b)in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained;

(c)in action lawfully taken for the purpose of quelling a riot or insurrection.

  • So, are you not allowed to to help someone when they are committing suicide if they explicitly said so? Aug 30, 2020 at 7:28
  • @EmielLanckriet Not in the UK.
    – Lag
    Aug 31, 2020 at 19:33
  • Ok, thank you. I'll close this question now. Aug 31, 2020 at 20:32

You have understood this completely wrong

An absolute right is a right that can only be waived by the person possessing the right. So your right to life can be waived by you at any time making both suicide and "do not resuscitate" instructions legitimate.

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