Paralysed man seeks right to die

  • 29 November 2011
  • From the section Health
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Tony Nicklinson
Tony Nicklinson is unable to speak

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.

Suffer

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.

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.

Murder

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."

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