Is there a right to die?


Tony Nicklinson talks about his right to a pain free death

Tony Nicklinson scans the screen, blinks, and then his words - which he has painstakingly compiled - are read out by a computer-generated voice.

Mr Nicklinson can do almost nothing for himself - nothing except make a few eye and head movements. But it is enough for him to make his views crystal clear.

Although he was paralysed by a stroke in 2005, his intellect is intact. I met him and his wife Jane at their home in Wiltshire in advance of his High Court hearing.

Mr Nicklinson wants the courts to allow a doctor to give him to give him a lethal dose - it is a direct challenge to the law on murder.

It takes Mr Nicklinson a minute or two to compose each sentence. A sensor at the bottom of the screen tracks his eye movements and when he settles on the letter or word he wants, he blinks. I interviewed him at his home in Wiltshire a few days ago.

His care needs are too complex to allow him to make the journey to court.

I have reported his case several times so I was glad to meet him and to try to understand a little more about his life and why he wants to be allowed to die.

He told me "each day is getting that little bit more uncomfortable and harder to bear".

You can watch the interview by clicking the box above.


The hearing at the High Court represents a fundamental challenge to the law on murder. In amounts to an appeal to allow euthanasia 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.

Tony Nicklinson is paralysed from the neck down so he could not pick up and drink a lethal cocktail prepared by another. Instead he wants a doctor to administer the lethal dose.

Common law

So what are the arguments which Tony Nicklinson's legal team will use in court?

First they will try the common law defence of necessity against a murder charge - arguing that the only way to end his suffering is to allow him to die. This is judge-made and judge-interpreted law - it's not written down in statute.

Necessity was used successfully in 2000 in the case of conjoined twins - doctors had to separate them in order to allow one to live. They knew the other twin would die, but necessity demanded they sacrifice one to save the other, otherwise both would have perished.

This case is very different, and I have re-read the judgement in the Pretty case at the House of Lords, and there the same argument of necessity was rejected.

Mr Nicklinson's team will also argue 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.

This does not mention a right to death, but this part of the Convention has been frequently used in assisted suicide cases.

Mr Nicklinson will not be at court as his care needs are too complex to allow him to journey from Wiltshire to London.

The hearing at the High Court will last a few days and then judgement is expected to be reserved until a later date.

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.

Fergus Walsh, Medical correspondent Article written by Fergus Walsh Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    This subject would not be debated if we were talking about animals such as cats, dogs, horses, etc.. We would absolutely not wish to have an animal suffer, why do we force human animals (which is what we are) to suffer? Any attempt to end a humans life should be along the same lines as those for the family pet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    I have long held the idea that if we are responsible for how we conduct ourselves during our lives, we must also be responsible for how & when it ends in certain circumstances.Those being when we are in a position to say we have had enough, usually through illness. I agree safeguards need to be in place but to abrogate responsibility because of superstition or stupidity is no reason not to debate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    C: the sufferer's situation may improve to the point where life becomes tolerable.
    C maybe, but it's still his choice"
    This applies to bridge jumpers, folks balancing on highrise window sills, sitting in front of approaching trains,etc? We have no right to interfere because it's their choice? Or only when it's a non-messy , clinically observed suicide?

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    Its long overdue that the UK should openly debate this thorny subject and yes I think there should be a way "out" for those who want to that is dignified, and can be done in private.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    The posts against suicide fall into three categories:

    A: only a supernatural deity (contributors invoke various gods) has the authority to end human lfe.

    B: there's a risk of coercion by those who may benefit from the death.

    C: the sufferer's situation may improve to the point where life becomes tolerable.

    A is irrational.
    B needs strong safeguards
    C maybe, but it's still his choice

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    Once again we have a real problem facing a real person and all some commentators can say is "No, because I don't want it to happen". It is not a matter of principle, it doesn't affect anyone else. Slippery slopes and religion are nothing to do with it. If he could take his own life he would; he needs society's help to do so. Are we so shallow that we turn our backs on him?

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    My life is my own to do with as I please. It is not down to judges, idiot politicians, people with religious sensibilities so far from my own or anyone else to determine my fate or what I can and cannot do with my existence.

    So please butt out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    Yes, he should have the choice of whether he lives on like this or not, but whether he will make the right choice is another question.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    The people who make these decisions should spend a week with those who have to suffer unbelievably every single day of their life. Tony Nicklinson and others like him will never get better. There is no cure. Let him at least keep his dignity and allow him the choice of when he dies. It annoys me when pompous law makers think they know better than the people who go through this terrible ordeal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.


    There comes a point passing on is easier, but the person should be able to make the choice themselves, take the dose of whatever it is themselves.


    I agree with you to a point, but what if as in this case you are not able to? A loved one could administer a lethal dose, but they (and the doctor who supplied the drugs) would face prosecution.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    @ladyloulou - I ABSOLUTELY AGREE WITH YOU !!!! Coudln't have put it better myself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    I sit here and cringe, at 63 this could be me anytime now - I feel panicky that if this happens to me I should have to sit there and listen to the oooh isn't it a shame comments while all I want to do is scream KILL ME. I feel claustrophobic at the thought - Lets not confuse our love of animals with this guys rights - let him go PLEASE - It may be me one day or perhaps I should end it now in case!

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    It's considered cruel to keep an animal alive that we think is suffering, yet a man who is able to tell us how much he is suffering is not given the same courtesy. The main arguments against euthanasia are not being sure that this is really what the person wants. It's pretty obvious that this IS what he wants. You'd help a disabled man to live, so help him die.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    What a dim question. YES THERE IS A RIGHT TO DIE.
    There is also a right to live - UK employers take note.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    There comes a point passing on is easier, but the person should be able to make the choice themselves, take the dose of whatever it is themselves. Nobody should be asked or allowed to assist beyond providing the means to do it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    @ 123 Dominic
    Not at all.
    My point was to highlight how we are happy to put an animal out of its misery but we won't show the same compassion to mankind.
    It's ridiculous!
    Who owns life?
    Is it the person who lives it or our governments?
    I most certainly don't believe my life belongs to the government and if they believe this it's time we corrected them!

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    Tony Nicklinson should be allowed to die, how can any of us know how he feels, and so how can we make a judgement on his right to die, he is disabled not stupid therefore allow him his wish and stop his suffering

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    If this guy was a dog we would have no trouble at all putting him down!
    It's a strange world when we care more about animals than ourselves!
    @ Lots of silly comments about dogs.If he was a dog he could be dumped in a rescue centre.We care differently about people, not more or less. For the pro-death folk, we can reflect on Hitler's proposals for useless eaters

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    I thought being christian meant that you believe there is an afterlife?? So let him go to it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    "It's a bit daft really!
    If this guy was a dog we would have no trouble at all putting him down!
    It's a strange world when we care more about animals than ourselves!"

    You think we should put humans down like we do dogs? You do realise that the dog has no say in the matter?


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