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".

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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 145.

    Prof John Saunders's comments are disgusting!! You are a disgrace John Saunders! How can you stand there and say that you have sympathy for the man but your against his right to die peacefully! He says, if he wants to die then he has the option of starvation! He's not just fighting to die, he's fighting to die with dignity, at home with his family by his side! This law needs to be changed quickly!

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    This is so incredibly sad. I am heartbroken for him. It is simply unimaginable how much this poor man must be suffering. I am sorely disappointed by the judge's ruling. This was an exceptional case- therefore exception should have been made. I hope that one day Tony finds the peace he deserves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    Paul Tully is deluded if he thinks everyone can be convinced their life is worth living with just compassion and humanity. These should be the very first things tried and for many people with the same condition it will be enough for them to find a reason to live. However Tony is of sound mind, has a loving family and has lived with this for some time and he still feels the pros out weigh the cons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    He cannot be assisted in death by a doctor or anyone else for that matter. Its a matter of principle, if he really wants to die, he will have to do it the old fashion way, hire a hit-man, or fly to Syria. The legal and moral repercussions of allowing someone else to legally help him die are huge and undermine the ethical principle by which this country is run.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    A correct decision legally may not be so morally. Assisted suicides are easier legally now suicide is not criminal, so how is the expressed wish to die, made for good reason and without pressure, any different from from suicide ethically? If a doctor will do it, he should be allowed to do it freely, In Tony's situation, I might want to do the same.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    This is the right decision - and I say that as a supporter of assisted dying. The law must stand firm on this and if the individual and his loved one wish to take matters further than it allows, then I for one will not condemn then. Faced with the similar situation and with no God to answer to I would release my partner from their distress if that was their wish - and let the law takes its course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    It's none of our damn business how people choose to live or end their life. This has to be the worst BBC HYS ever. It implies those with 'problems' are not worthy.

    Furthermore, too many posters here reiterate that suicide is the answer to major physical/mental difficulties.

    Some of you posters make me sick. You could be disabled tomorrow - physically/mentally or both.

    Samaritans: 08457 90 90 90

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    Hypocrisy! If it is playing god to take a life then, surely, it is playing god to create a life. Let the man die if that is his true wish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    How despicable. Forcing a man to live his life in agonising torment is tantamount to torture. I understand the issue that it'd be murder for him to die, but damnit it's his own choice. He wants it and he should have it. If the courts don't allow it chances are someone will do it for him.

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    111. barryp

    SInce Mr Nickleson has the ability to control a computer he is able to self apply a lethal injection,

    He has no ability to move whatsoever, save blinking his eyes, which is how he communicates.

    I understand that the vulnerable need to be protected, but surely it is possible to draft a law that will help people in this situation, or those with terminal illness who wish to die?

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    I live in Switzerland, they allow this here. Another wonderfull thing, they have here is direct democracy, whenever the poloticians want to pass a law, drop the speed limit , which fighter planes to buy etc...., the people are asked to vote on it, if a group wants to make a change in the law they lobby the government. By the amount of comments in favour here, i am sure the law would change in UK

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    "But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven."

    Emphasis on suffer.

    Could not the Justices have ruled on specific case and stated that ruling shall have no bearing on established law and will not establish a precedent?

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    I'm amazed by the one-sided approach of the comments. Are you advocating it is OK for someone to take another persons life? People here really need to be aware of what they are siding up to. Its a sad situation for Mr Nicklinson's, but what was asked goes far beyond ending a life, it is the taking of life which no one has the right to do. To compare to animal welfare is bizarre and unwise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    I hope his wife sees these comments and decides to proceed with assisting her poor husband anyway. I am confident a jury would find her 'not guilty' based on the strength of feeling being displayed, thus setting a precedent all others could follow. We would not let a dog live in this way (and rightly so) but it is fine for a human being to do so!

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.


  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    The point being that 'citizens' are not masters of their own fate - the government insists on that power. In the same way they prosecute victims for foiling theft etc.
    Obviously a few criteria could easily be placed to prevent abuse - fat chance. Hope the appeal goes well, a few more and the real hoods may respect the wishes of their paymasters. Ha ha ha.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    This is ridiculous. Lots of drs already give fatal doses of morphine to cancer patients in order to relieve pain and suffering.

    They also make life and death decisions on wards around the country, they already have that power.

    But to accept that someone wants to choose for themselves appears to be beyond the BMA and the government.

    Spend a day in another's shoes, then consider the issue again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    The judges were not cruel. They made the only choice available to them. While suicide is no longer illegal, making provision for "mercy killing" is not the same thing. The law forbids this to prevent people submitting to being killed due to coercion or pressure. While Tony's case is tragic there are grave dangers to agreeing to his proposed remedy - hence the reason why the law will not change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    The stance of the BMA on this issue is laughable. A few months ago my Father was in hospital and was "put" on a DNR - do not resusitate notice. This without his consent or mine as next of kin. Seems the medical profession want to play God as and when it suits them!

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    Though I expected it, this decision infuriates me. Surely in a democratic society we can do better than this. This shouldn't be about the law, it should be about humanity and dignity. And above all about the choice of the individual. To not give this man his right to die makes a mockery of the principles that this country is supposedly heralded for.


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