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 225.

    I am relieved that the courts have gone against what seemed an unstoppable pro-euthanasia tendency.

    Of course the death lobbyists pick extreme cases like Mr Nicklinson's. But the suffering of those like him who want to die must be weighed against the suffering of millions of elderly, disabled, and sick people who, once euthanasia becomes legal, will be made to feel guilty about going on living.

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    The judgement was never going to be in his favour, and his legal team should have known this. For a judge to rule in his favour he would effectively have to rewrite to rule book. This is, quite rightly, not the responsibility of judges or courts, it is the responsibility of parliament and politicians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    now if an animal was in distress and couldnt function properly wouldnt a vet not sort it out in a humain way yes they would, now yes I know this man is a human but whos in charge him or the government, who owns humans do we not have the right to die if theres no help available to make our lifes much better I just think the person concerned has every right to die the way he wishes give him respect

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    A really sad case for which I have much sympathy. In this case the judges are quite right to point out that they cannot change the law. A rare and welcome example of judges actually upholding the law rather than making it up as they go along.

    On balance I do not think the law should change but I do feel for this poor man.

  • Comment number 221.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    Sentencing a healthy person to death is against the law but sentencing this unhealthy man to life is legal, but far more cruel. The laws seems completely backwards on this topic

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    200 Adam..

    Explain why it is immoral, for this man to hold his views ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    #181 You are so correct. FYI, if you are with a suffering, dying relative, a Doctor or Nurse may ask you 'Is he/she in pain do you think?' This is a well known code in the NHS- if you answer yes, your suffering relative will be given just enough morphine to end their suffering in a shortish period of time- 18-24 hours or so. It DOES happen, every single day. But it shouldn't be a lottery!

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    My God, it's the 21st century. Why haven't we got a society that prepares us for the inevitable and grants us the means to control the manner of our passing on? I dread to think how I might go. Our last moments on Earth are perhaps the most important in defining the quality of our lives. I say give everyone the right to choose, especially those who don't have the power to fight for what they want.

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    My goodness, how can you sleep at night? Let's take his only way of communicating away from him?????
    And Dr's/Nurses euthanase all the time My own dear little boy, and my Gran were given massive overdoses of Morphine to 'lessen their suffering' Neither one was in such a plight as Mr Nicklinson, although I was told my son would have been had they 'artificially kept him alive'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    @Adam (200)

    I too am opposed to assisted suicide, but I find your comment about taking away his one means of communication to be utterly repugnant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    Tony Nicklinson is entitled to his views, but he needs to accept that they are extreme and grossly immoral. He should have his computer taken from him so he can no longer communicate them.
    I think it would be much more useful if your mum took your computer from you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    Govt. hates being undermined - that's the real issue here, hence no will to look at the issue. Re: the headline, anyone surprised? Fine to be the 5th largest weapons seller of course - sanctity of life and all that.
    135.MAKMADRID Direct democracy eh? Never happen here - people wouldn't want it! ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    We can get a Rover to Mars, but we can't attach a simple piece of machinery to a computer in order to trigger a fatal dose?

    We have no power over whether we're born or not, but we should certainly have the power to end our lives, because anything other than that is someone else's will being imposed upon the sufferer

    One day it will be a legal option. But no-one wants to seem unethical right now

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    Suggest people walk a mile in my shoes before they feel they have the right to decide how I end my life. I have progressive MS and it is a living hell. The only way I could die would be with the help of my family. Why should they suffer more. Wheelchair bound, incontinent,need constant care. Anyone out there offering to swap. No not bitter just very sad...

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    The NHS does kill people legally. It's a procedure known as the Liverpool Care Pathway, and consists of removing food and fluids until someone dies. Strange no-one has brought this up?

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    I do not understand why people seem to think that Mr. Niklinson can use a computer. Locked in syndrome means just that - he cannot move at all, save blinking his eyes, which he uses to communicate. The picture may show him at a computer, but he is reading, and not typing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    191.Ben Essada
    Practically if he has the ability to 'type' then he has the ability to control any device attached to a computer.
    If you have payed any attention, this man can only operate a computer by eye movement alone thus meaning he has no control over any 3rd party device that can be operated by himself

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    @179. Matt And when they get to Switzerland, what do they do next?How does a man with complete paralysis drink two small bottles of nembutal? You seem to be completely ignorant of the procedure for ending life at the dignitas clinic, they are not allowed to inject or administer the barbiturates, the patient has to drink it themselves, which presents some difficulty in this case.

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    I cannot believe that we are so wedded to "human rights" that we ignore the "rights" of a human who has had enough of life or is it because politicians cannot accept that the world they have created is not perfect?


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