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 185.

    151 this is not true! 3 months before her operation I don’t think so mother asked my brother and I to kill her as she could not stand the continual pain caused by cancerous tumours. We refused. Three months later she was operated on successfully and the tumours removed and she made a full reHad their been a law in force and my brother and I been less then her life would unnecessarily been ended.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    Time to top ourselves long before we can't

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    Given the government's attitude towards disabled and sick people, if ever lobbying could work, it's right now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    Please make some law regarding in this. I feel pity seeing that man in such condition. Please let him die in peace. U.K. is developed Country. I feel like crying seeing man in such condition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    Known Fact:
    Dr's DO Euthanaise people who are in chronic pain (cancer and terminal illness') with a Morphine overdose to relieve pain and suffering. why is it notices are put oveer patient headboards DNR (do not ressucitate)

    will a real person stand up and finally run this country and give the people what they ask for and what we need.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    Put a cat - a useless predator, killing our valuable wildlife - into a dustbin and the might of the law descends on you.

    Live a life of hopeless despair and misery and the law says tough sh**, keep on suffering.

    It makes me so proud to be British. Pauses to remove tongue from cheek.

    I hope the judge suffers just as much one day, and I hope all the "keep everyone alive regardless" types do too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    There is nothing stopping them travelling to the Veritas clinic in Switzerland.

    In the time that this had been in the media, they could have raised enough money for a private flight with a doctor.

    Something not's right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    I think the court made the right decision. If he won, it would have effectively legalised murder and created a dangerous precident for a new legal defense that could have allowed murderers to escape justice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    Its a victory for the percieved greater good.

    Most people in this poor buggers situation don`t want the law changed...the Law protects the vunerable

    I think any decision arrived, depends on what form of ethics you are of mind to consider..

    It appears to be consequentalism in this case..I dislike it

    I would think a way ought to be found to enable people of sound mind to exercise choice

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    So he can starve himself to death and die in pain but he can't allow a doctor to put him out of his misery in a quick, humane and pain-free way. We need to lobby our spineless politicians to change the law so that people in this awful position can die with dignity and with his family and friends by his side. With proper protection there is no reason we can't have a law to allow this to happen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    Dinesh Patel
    1 Minute Ago

    I can't believe so many of these comments, rather and than question why this person feels the need to kill himself, we complain that that someone isn't allowed to kill him!


    I think it`s patently obvious why he would want to end his life. I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like to live with locked in syndrome.

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    It is possible to set out guidelines to protect those who need protection (being incapable of this sort of decision), but allowing those suffering, as Mr Nickleson is, to find a peaceful exit from a life that has nothing left for them. He has the mental capacity to make this decision. It's unclear how changing the law would adversely affect 'many many people' as the pro-life commentator says.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    It may be every persons right to die the way they wish but in this case it requires someone else, presumably a doctor, to basically murder the person. I am not sure how many doctors, who promise to save lives, could live with this.

    There is a big difference between someone dying from treatment whcih controls pain and a deliberate act of taking a life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.


    Thank you.

    Problem solved, he does not need assisted suicide. He needs "end-of-life comfort medication" because thats different and can legally be administered by a medical professional.

    I guess it's down to the words you use to describe what you do?

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    SPUC Pro-Life, it must be brilliant for you to hold the moral high ground over everyone else. Perhaps you could make lots of other life changing decisions for people you don't know and have never met either. I'm sure they would love to have your morality forced on them too, even it leaves them living in desperately terrible circumstances.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    @NickEM (comment 93) As you rightly say, as apparently simple request is asking for something profound - the right for someone to end a person's life with their consent. How would you set and enforce parameters on this right, however obvious some cases appear? How do you ensure the person requesting death is making a free and fully informed choice, without undue pressure from feeling burdensome?

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    @tcement (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."

    Your point being that the meanings of some English words have changed in 400 years?

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    If you can't choose to be born then why should you be able to choose to die? Life is cruel and has been for millions of years. All we can do is try to find solutions that make it less so. I hope they find a cure soon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    If he wants it then why should anyone else care? Let him kill himself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    My dad had to take his own life due to a tumour and pain that he couldn't medicate. As we would have being prosacuded if we helped he took his own life by jumping in front of a 18 tone lorry this meant the lorry drives and his family also suffered as well as all the police medical crew, my family and myself with. My family would have given anything just for him to die peacefully. Let him die


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