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 205.

    I feel desperately sorry for Mr Nicklinson and if thats his wish in his situation he should be allowed to die.. a sad and disappointing day for Tony only made worse by the smug sanctimonious comments from Paul Tully of ProLife,who I am sure might feel considerably different were it he who were 'locked-in'

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    It's always about the law, always about a group of people deciding what is best, these people are usually as far from reality as you can get.....What asbout just doing things right.????

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    * Dignitas . . not Veritas. . .lol

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    If I cannot rely on the assistance I would need should the circumstances arise, I will have to consider dying earlier than necessary, while I am still capable of acting on my own.

    Yes, there should be high hurdles against abuse.
    But to insist that someone who, with all possible aid, still finds life intolerable must persist in that is inhumane.
    "I sentence you to indefinite torture."

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    4 Minutes ago

    The unbelievable arrogance of these judges. Surely it is a fundamental right for anyone to decide whether to live or die.


    To be fair to judges they don`t make the law, only enact it. It is down to politicians to change the law but i think it would need a very long debate before laws could be changed.

  • Comment number 200.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    Utterly ridiculous. The man has freedom of choice yet he cannot exercise that due to his condition and thus requires help to end his life. I can only imagine how horrible that must be.I suffered two brain haemorhages (recovered)but told my parents DNR if it happened again and I was cabbaged. My choice, noone elses.Brave man.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    The right to die or the right to live. One man with a Twitter following is not any reason to change laws that will suit him - yet affect thousands of others who are not able to articulate their views.

    Bad laws are often made by emotional/judgemental responses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    Which is better - to end your life calmly, sat in the garden in the sunset, or to give your family the shock of their lives when they come home to find the state you've ended up in when you've struggled to do it yourself (and, possibly worse, failed in your attempt).

    Allied to this is the whole issue of palliative care in this country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    Doctors' duty of care is to maximise patients' QALYs and logically extends to minimizing their "zeroQALYs" .
    When this is beyond remedy I can see no ethical objection to helping a patient who so wishes to procure a peaceful death.
    I would argue that keeping Mr Nicklinson alive against his wishes amounts to torture by his doctors and that he should take his case to the European Courts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    Not quite sure why the woman in the video apologises for the man speaking, seems quite condescending to me.

    I can understand the man's desire to end his life, but I don't feel it is right that he imposes the killing of another human being on doctors who have taken the hippocratic oath where they have clearly sworn "I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked".

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    Brilliant - parliament has to decide on this ! Well we know where those crooks stand on ethics and morals after the slaughtering of hundreds of thousands innocent civilians in an illegal war in Iraq.

    Do you think if euthanasia could be privatised they might be in favour of it ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    Why do offer more dignity to our pets than we do humans when it comes to stopping suffering ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    I think its disgraceful that he cannot do as he wishes, it is not up to anyone else, the people who have come to this decision cannot realize what it must be like, they would change their tune if it happened to them. Its about time someone was allowed to do as they wish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    Practically if he has the ability to 'type' then he has the ability to control any device attached to a computer. The solution would appear to be connect the patient to a lethal injection device (as used in US prisons) and then let him 'press the button'.

    It would still be assisted suicide but no issue of 'someone else taking his life'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    The unbelievable arrogance of these judges. Surely it is a fundamental right for anyone to decide whether to live or die.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    It is very much my wish to have the power to transfer an illness from a sufferer to all those who oppose the wishes of the sufferer. I have the selfish and apparently uncaring members of the SPUC Pro-Life organisation as my initial targets. If this could actually happen then all would be happy and have what they really desire.

    Ah well. It would appear to be "Carry on Dreaming" time for now..

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    I cannot fathom why the judiciary and politicians are so out of step with the public on this. I can only assume that they choose to lock away their poor broken relatives and throw money at carers to witness the suffering, the indiginity, the humiliation and the pain. No one is saying that every person could be euthanised, but that, in extremis, this should be an option. God help us all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    If Mr. Nicklinson would be allowed judicially to have his life terminated by assisted suicide and he does so there can be so many similar social legal complication of murdering .anyone like that of Mr. Nicklinson and the murder can claim release giving reference of the same judicial order..

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    Matt I have been though this and if the family know that a family memeber is off to switzland for that reason they can be charge with assitted suicide


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