Paralysed man seeks right to die

Tony Nicklinson Tony Nicklinson is unable to speak

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A severely disabled 57 year old man is to ask a High Court judge to allow a doctor to end his life. Tony Nicklinson issued proceedings in a case which will challenge the law on murder.

Mr Nicklinson was paralysed from the neck down following a stroke in 2005 and left with "locked-in syndrome". He is unable to speak and communicates by nodding his head at letters on a board or by using a computer which responds to eye movements.


In a statement released by his lawyers, Mr Nicklinson said: "When the time is right I want to be able to die at home with a drug which a doctor could give me so that I can take it with help and go to sleep peacefully with my family around to say goodbye to me. That would be a good death. What I have to look forward to is a wretched ending with uncertainty, pain, and suffering while my family watch on helplessly. Why must I suffer these indignities? If I were able bodied I could put an end to my life when I want to. Why is life so cruel?"

Earlier this year his legal team said they would be asking the Director of Public Prosecutions to clarify the law on so-called mercy killing. Saimo Chahal from Bindmans solicitors said the DPP had made it clear there was no flexibility on the law and anyone who deliberately took someone's life would be charged with murder.

Locked-In Syndrome

  • Condition in which patient is mute and totally paralysed, except for eye movements, but remains conscious
  • Usually results from massive haemorrhage or other damage, affecting upper part of brain stem, which destroys almost all motor function, but leaves the higher mental functions intact

She said the delay in bringing the action had been due to difficulties in obtaining legal aid, which had now been granted. A full hearing before a judge in the Family Division of the High Court will begin next year.

This legal action is not being brought against the DPP but the Ministry of Justice. Ms Chahal told me it would be a "full-frontal attack on the law of murder". She said they would be seeking a declaration of the sort sometimes issued by the High Court allowing the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration from patients in a persistent vegetative state.


Last year the DPP, Keir Starmer QC issued guidance on assisted suicide in England and Wales which made it clear that deliberate killing or euthanasia, would always be prosecuted:

"It is murder or manslaughter for a person to do an act that ends the life of another, even if he or she does so on the basis that he or she is simply complying with the wishes of the other person concerned."

Last year the Scottish Parliament rejected plans to make it legal for someone terminally ill to seek help to end their life.

A spokesperson for the British Medical Association said: "The BMA is opposed to assisted suicide and to doctors taking a role in any form of assisted dying. We support the current law and are not seeking any change in UK legislation on this issue."

Fergus Walsh Article written by Fergus Walsh Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    i lived for many years in the netherlands, where euthanasia is legal. you need the agreement of TWO doctors before the procedure can be carried out. it is strange but it has been discovered that the average death is speeded only by a few hours: once people know that they have control, they are happy to wait until it really IS time... no one gets 'murdered' and no one suffers ore than they wish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    "First, do no harm" is the most important principal of medical ethics. Sometimes insisting on "life no matter what" breaks this tenet.

    If a person has a terminal disease + is in profound intractible pain, is it more harmful to keep them alive or allow them a quick, dignified painless end? If a person wants to die but is too disabled to take their own life, is making them stay alive doing harm?

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    If people have the right to refuse life saving treatment, why should they be refused help in ending their lives as painlessly as possible? Surely the purpose of medicine is to relieve people's pain and to reduce suffering? Euthanasia is not murder.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Thanks to a wonderful friend who is a chemist, I know exactly what to do when I need to do it. This awful, stupid, uncaring law which means those whose lives are such unmitigated hell have to stay alive against their will is an abomination and has to go. Not all of us can afford to go to Switzerland and I sincerely hope the law is changed in favour of compassion and common sense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Everyone I know agrees with the sentiments already expressed by people who seem intelligent and articulate, as I do. My partner is extremely disabled but has indicated that not only does he wish to live but if circumstances dictate, he would wish to be resuscitated. I know I would have a battle to meet this wish. What a paradox! Where as individuals do we have self determination? Not this country

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    An ending all of us dread.

    How can the BMA be so perverse and lacking in empathy? Is it that they're too lazy or fearful to deal with the apparent offence to the basic premise of their profession euthenasia represents?
    In an overpopulated world with an ever increasing life-expectation, to deny a sane person their right to die is beynd belief!

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I agree with the sentiments expressed already.I fear the misery of being forceably kept alive against my will in conditions that,if it were done to a dog or cat,would entail prosecution by the RSPCA.,far more than death itself which is inevitable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    About time there was a legal right to death, before the ghouls of the medical profession make even more advances in keeping these pitiable cases alive and suffering

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Helping Tony Nicklinson to end his incurable suffering should certainly not be equated to murder. The law needs to be changed.

    Which of us would change places with him? - None.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Who's life is it anyway?
    Once it has been determined that subject is of sound mind, has his doctor's support (& specialist if applicable), who do we think we are to stop the subject from ending his life in a milieu that he finds comfortable, acceptable, and pleasant.
    There but for God, we could be "locked in" and forced to live, which seems like torture to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Is it not perverse that a legal system, which urges equality in all other respects for those with a disability, should deny that equality in respect of the right to end one's own life?


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