Tony Nicklinson loses High Court right-to-die case


Jane Nicklinson: "He is absolutely heartbroken"

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A man paralysed from the neck down has lost his High Court case to allow doctors to end his life without fear of prosecution.

Tony Nicklinson, 58, from Melksham, Wiltshire, communicates by blinking and has described his life as a "living nightmare" since a stroke in 2005.

Mr Nicklinson said he would appeal against the decision.

The case went further than previous challenges to the law in England and Wales on assisted suicide and murder.

Another man, known only as Martin, who is 47, also lost his case to end his life with medical help.


Father-of-two Mr Nicklinson was left paralysed with locked-in syndrome after a catastrophic stroke while on a business trip to Athens.

Start Quote

These are matters for Parliament to decide”

End Quote Lord Justice Toulson

He said he was "devastated" by the court's decision.

"Although I didn't want to raise my hopes, it happened anyway because a fantastic amount of work went into my case and I thought that if the court saw me as I am, utterly miserable with my life, powerless to do anything about it because of my disability then the judges would accept my reasoning that I do not want to carry on and should be able to have a dignified death.

"I am saddened that the law wants to condemn me to a life of increasing indignity and misery."

Explaining the decision, Lord Justice Toulson, said both cases were "deeply moving".

However he added: "A decision to allow their claims would have consequences far beyond the present cases. To do as Tony wants, the court would be making a major change in the law.

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.

"It is not for the court to decide whether the law about assisted dying should be changed and, if so, what safeguards should be put in place.

"Under our system of government these are matters for Parliament to decide."

The case differed from other "right-to-die" cases which have focused on assisted suicide. Mr Nicklinson would be unable to take lethal drugs, even if they were prepared by someone else.

For someone else to kill him would amount to murder.

'Right decision'

The rulings were welcomed by the group SPUC Pro-Life. Paul Tully from the organisation said: "Compassion and solidarity are the humane and caring responses to locked-in syndrome. To legalise killing of those who are suffering would adversely affect many, many people.

"We trust that today's judgment will help end the insidious campaign in the British courts to change the law on assisted suicide and euthanasia."

The British Medical Association said the court had made "the right decision".

Start Quote

For most people the debate is often remote from ordinary lives but for me, the debate on assisted dying is truly a matter of (an unhappy) life and (a pain-free) death”

End Quote

Dr Tony Calland, from the BMA's medical ethics committee, said "The BMA does not believe that it would be in society's best interests for doctors to be able to legally end a patient's life.

"The BMA is opposed to the legalisation of assisted dying and we are not lobbying for any change in the law in the UK".


During the hearing in June David Perry QC, who is representing the Ministry of Justice, said Mr Nicklinson's "tragic and very distressing circumstances evoke the deepest sympathy".

"Notwithstanding the distressing facts of his situation, the defendant submits that the claim for declarations is untenable. The law is well established," he added.

Prof John Saunders, Royal College of Physicians: ''This is not about the right-to-die, this is about a right to enable a third party to actively terminate his life for him''

The case was contested on the issue of "necessity" arguing that the only way to end Mr Nicklinson's suffering is to allow him to die.

This was used in 2000 when conjoined twins were separated, saving one even though doctors knew the other would die.

Mr Nicklinson's team also argued that his case is covered by Article Eight of the European Convention on Human Rights which deals with the right to respect for private and family life.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    I'm absolutely disgusted to be living in England, where this kind of cruelty can just happen, in name of the law, which is supposedly there to protect us. When will Britain have the guts to have a grown-up discussion and adjusted law system around this, like my native country, the Netherlands. Absolutely disgusted to be living here. Grow up and face the discussion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    I feel much for him. I myself would not want to make the decision as I would feel that as long as one is alive there is hope for a cure. Having said this, I once took an overdose suffering from Bipolar-I as the time I just could not bear the suffering. So I very much appreciate Tony's wish to finish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Surely Article 3, which enshrines the right to life - by default enshrines a persons, an individuals, right to death as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    It is no good blaming the Courts for this.The Court can only make decisions within the framework of the Law.I am sure the Judge sitting on this must have felt terrible,however it is for him to try to see if the law can be construed in the way this poor man wanted it to be. His judgement is it cant
    Parliament needs to change the Law. Parliament is voted in by us. Write to your local MP for a change

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    It's moments like this when some clever lawyer and a technical bod need to get together to find a loophole and solution to show how much of an ASS the law really is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    If you read the judgment at it is clear that the judges examined the issues very carefully before concluding that they could not grant the orders sought. Nothing in previous UK or European Court of Human Rights judgments creates any precedent for assisted suicide. As the judges said, it is for Parliament and not the courts to change the law in this difficult area.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    I read the outcome with anger. The courts say its parlement to decide, parlement are too cowardly to decide. So the fate of an individual is to suffer. This is where you realise that you do not own your own life.

    Then you have these groups interfering with our right to die arguing all sorts of 'what if's'. Our lives.


    I understand the BMA position.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    The saddest thing about all this is that a human life wishing for mercy and a peaceful death is being compared to a pet.

    And more importantly a pet that would be given the mercy it needed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Murderers are put to death in some countries without their consent when they themselves should be forced to live in solitude and discomfort for the rest of their lives, as punishment. Yet, a law abiding man who wishes to end his pain and suffering is forced to live the rest of his life in a living hell. Where is the justice?

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I really feel for Tony and would so want the court to grant him his wish but the court is right... the law needs changing which is parliament's job not the court's.

    Search "petition Tony Nicklinson" and just sign up to that, this is how you can help if you think he should have this choice about his life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    13.Jim Bentley

    Never heard of inheritance tax?

    Having watched my two older brothers die long painful deaths from cancer I have some idea of what the suffering is like. Time for a change to our outdated laws.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    If you are of sound body but not sound mind then you can legally kill yourself in anyway you choose. But if you are of sound mind but not sound body you are stuck in a living hell which no one is allowed to release you from. We wouldn't treat animals like this. It is unbelievably sad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    I wonder how the people who made this decision can live with themselves?
    Cruel Ba###rds!!!!!

    Our life is our own, and we should be free to do as we wish with it.

    Personally I blame the notion that human life is above all other life. I for one don't think it is. We afford animals compassion and dignity yet make humans suffer. It's messed up. My thoughts go out to Mr Nicklinson and his family.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    If our pets get ill we euthanise them to save their suffering in the name of humanity yet we cannot as a species bring ourselves to allow our fellow humans who are suffering the right to die with dignity.

    It is a sad day indeed.

    The decision that has been made is a cruel, cold and inhuman one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    An inexcusable abuse of judicial power in a free society that needs reviewing by Parliament and be changed once and for all.

    To stand so merciless in the face of human suffering betrays an unfeeling arrogance that brings the English legal system into disrepute. The Judges should be made to pay all parties legal fees and now the appeal costs from their inflated and unwarranted salaries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Refusing this poor man's reasonable request to allow an end to his suffering is no different to torture. We are no better than americans, as a society, if we do not allow people access to the means and help to end their suffering.

  • Comment number 29.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    There is a need for a case by case decision to be made in matters such as this and when the apellant is of sound mind it should be a decision in favour of the apellant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    My wife and I have already agreed that if either of us was in this tragic state, one would end the other's life somehow. The next thing we would do is call the police and wait upon events. This decision is atrocious.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    This shouldn't be about having someone legally allowed to terminate his life. We have the technology for Tony to communicate via a computer. It would be simple to connect the computer up to a device that administers the drugs. Tony could then have the ability to use a pre-agreed password to instruct the computer to trigger the device. That means a 3rd party is only involved in the setup


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