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 285.

    An old coroner's verdict used to be "Suicide when the balance of his mind was disturbed". This obviously is not the case here. Mr Nicklinson has at all times shown great clarity of mind and purpose. He feels he does not live, but merely exists in a living hell. He feels his mind will possibly go the way of his body if he continues. We should respect his wishes and let him go into that good night.

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    Whilst having full sympathy with Tony Niklinson, this issue cannot be decided on an emotional response to one individual as it would inevitably affect many more. What consideration for the doctors/other health professionals who may not wish to be placed in the position of being required to carry out the wishes of others in the same position?

  • Comment number 283.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    I do feel for Mr. Nicklinson, he must be in a lot of pain. At the same time, I also feel for the doctors who would have to administer the drugs, it's very easy to sit at home and say "I wouldn't have a problem doing that", but it's very different when there is a real life human being in front of you, trust me. It would require a certain type of doctor to actually take a life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    263. right-away

    Agree with most of what you say... but we are not the alpha species... we can't even survive outdoors.

    God... no-one over the age of 10 should have an imaginary friend.

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    @ 211. JOY
    My mother had the same symptons and condition that you have described. I found her in the morning after she took her life. I just wish it was more dignified, instead of her having to be secretive about killing herself. She was fortunate that she had enough mobility to execute her wishes. It is disgusting that some people have no concept of suffering. Take care.

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    Whether or not you agree with it, abortion is legal subject to assessment of the circumstances and safeguards to prevent abuse. Yet all the legal, medical and political brains are apparently incapable of devising a similar framework to assist those such as Tony Nicklinson? If the law were to be changed, the final decision could be taken by a judge after consideration of the individual case.

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    We used to take the lives of hardened criminals; this stopped because society determined it morally wrong, plus the situation of wrongful execution weighs heavy.

    However, if a man pleads and begs with us, as a society to help him pass on because of agonising pain or is locked-in, then surely, as a morally strong society, we have an obligation to help this person find a dignified, peaceful rest!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.


    There was only one good outcome..upholding the Law..

    I watched the MP` debate this last time..they didn`t appear to be able to reach a consensus..

    It seems any attempt to help people who want to die compromises the priority of protecting the vunerable..

    I personally don`t see it as a gordian knot..

    It should be very hard to end your life...but possible..

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    Quite right to!

    IF society wants to go this route....and it probably does, then the law needs to be drawn up incredibly well so there are no loopholes.

    The courts should not act in these cases until the proper statutory framework is agreed and in place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.

    To me it comes down to this;

    Would you rather be tortured constantly and mercilessly for the rest of your life or be allowed a quick, painless and dignified death?

    I'd rather the latter. We condemn Assad for his human rights violations but in my mind this cruelty puts those who made this decision on a par. I don't know how some people can sleep at night, but then I have a concience

  • rate this

    Comment number 274.

    The courts change the law everyday of the week, it is called case-law.
    Why have they withdrawn the right to in this case?

  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    Why was this case put before a judge(s), if he can't grant this poor man his wishes, because the law says he can't. If any person wishes to end there life because of circumstances they are in, they should be allowed to, and doctors should assist if needed. It's time the government changed the law, and let this man die with dignity. When life becomes unbearable it should be allowed to end.

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    200.Adam "He should have his computer taken from him so he can no longer communicate them."

    This is just vile. His computer is the only means he has to communicate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    Toulson, attempting to explain a most inhumane decision made by him and others, has made me and others incredibly angry that Nicklinson and Martin need to appeal this decision.

    ‘”To do as Tony wants, the court would be making a major change in the law.”’ Says Toulson.

    Of course! This court case is about that. How dense can one man be!

    43ch. left. BBC needs to extend comment data fields!

  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    let"s just hope all the aye"s to the ruling never suffer a similar torturous
    fate.that poor man

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.

    How cruel to deny this man a dignified death. We wouldn't treat our animals this way. I think the kindest thing would be to let him quietly slip away in his sleep if there was certain terms and conditions for each individual case, why can't this be possible?

  • rate this

    Comment number 268.

    It's time for a change in the law. It is shameful that he is being forced to carry on his life in such an undignified way. That said, there needs to be adequate safeguards to protect the vunerable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    A retired Church of England priest from Eastbourne has been charged with 29 sexual offences against three boys…all in the name of god and want to keep tony alive the church is barbaric

  • rate this

    Comment number 266.

    I've only just recently starting following this story and I don't know the family personally, but it's absolutely heartbreaking to see him and his family go through such pain and unnecessary suffering.
    I hope one day that he is allowed to die with dignity. My thoughts go out to his wife and children in this very distressing time.


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