Locked-in man 'faces years of misery'

Tony Nicklinson talks about his right to a pain free death

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A paralysed man who wants a doctor to be able to lawfully kill him could live for another 20 years or more of "increasing misery", a court has heard.

Tony Nicklinson, 58, from Wiltshire, has locked-in syndrome following a stroke seven years ago.

His barrister also told the High Court he is not seeking a new law to allow euthanasia, but just wanted a "remedy".

But the government is to argue that such a ruling would authorise murder.

This legal bid differs from recent right-to-die cases which have focused on assisted suicide.

The hearing at the High Court represents a fundamental challenge to the law on murder. It amounts to an appeal to allow euthanasia - the deliberate killing of a person on their request - which is strictly prohibited.

It goes further than the case of Diane Pretty, who had motor neurone disease. The House of Lords rejected her appeal in 2001 to allow her husband to assist her suicide.

The case raises huge ethical and social issues which will spark major debate in the weeks ahead.

Win or lose, Mr Nicklinson can be assured that the issue of whether there is a right to die will be discussed in great detail by judges, politicians, the media and the public.

Instead, Mr Nicklinson's paralysis is so severe that he would have to be killed by someone else, known as euthanasia.

The married father-of-two had a stroke in 2005 while on a business trip to Athens, leaving him paralysed, but with a fully-functioning mind.

Before the hearing, he told the BBC his life was a "living nightmare" because he cannot speak and needs other people to do everything for him.

He has to use a special computer to communicate.

'Underground'

Mr Nicklinson is not attending court, but in an email to his legal team, he said: "Legal arguments are fine but they should not forget that a life is affected by the decision they come to.

"A decision going against me condemns me to a 'life' of increasing misery."

His barrister, Paul Bowen QC, told the court: "Tony has now had almost seven years to contemplate his situation.

"With the continuing benefits of 21st century health and social care his life expectancy can be expected to be normal - another 20 years or more. He does not wish to live that life."

Mr Bowen added: "The claimant, who has made a voluntary, clear, settled and informed wish to end his own life with dignity, is too disabled to do so.

"The current law of assisted suicide and euthanasia operate to prevent him from adopting the only means by which he could practically end his life, namely with medical assistance."

Mr Bowen went on to claim that the current law had forced euthanasia underground, where it is unregulated.

Right-to-die cases

Diane Pretty was terminally ill with motor neurone disease. She wanted the courts to give her husband immunity from prosecution if he was to help her die. In November 2001 the House of Lords refused her application.

Ms B was left a tetraplegic by a brain condition. She went to court because doctors refused to stop her artificial ventilation. The High Court ruled in 2002 that her request was valid and treatment was stopped.

Mrs Z, who had an incurable degenerative disease, wanted to go to Switzerland to die and Mr Z arranged it. An injunction to prevent the travel was granted to the local authority. The order was overturned in 2004.

MS sufferer Debbie Purdy challenged the lack of clarity on the law on assisted suicide. She wanted to understand how prosecutors would make a decision on whether or not to prosecute her husband if he was to assist her to get to Switzerland to be helped to die. Ms Purdy won her case and guidance was issued.

He said there were in the region of 3,000 cases each year.

Mr Nicklinson's legal action was launched to seek an assurance that a doctor could intervene to end his "indignity" and have a common law defence of necessity against any murder charge.

His legal team is arguing that the defence of necessity can be used against a murder charge - arguing that the only way to end his suffering is to allow him to die.

They are also claiming that his case is covered by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights which deals with the right to respect for private and family life.

The hearing is expected to last four days, and judges will also hear argument in a judicial review claim by another locked-in syndrome named only as Martin, who is 47.

Part of his case involves a challenge to the Director of Public Prosecution' s policy on assisted suicide.

A ruling will not be made until a later date.

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