Tony Nicklinson loses High Court right-to-die case


Jane Nicklinson: "He is absolutely heartbroken"

Related Stories

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.


More on This Story

Related Stories


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 305.

    I noticed Paul Tully from the SPUC (Society For The Protection Of The Unborn Child) was quoted in the article.This organisation is basically a front for the catholic church to push their anti abortion stance.This chap and his kind would deny a rape victim the right to an abortion.He and his organisation are irelevant to the issue under discussion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 304.

    IF you have a pet and keep it alive when it's suffering you can be prosecuted, it seems farcical that the reverse is true for Humans. Why must people with terminal conditions who want to end their lives with dignity be forced to suffer a long agonising death.
    Politicians need to grow a pair and legislate (inc stringent rules and safeguards) so that judges can do the right thing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 303.

    In this sort of situation ie sound mind, paralysed body, able to communicate- what would happen if you communicated for someone to stop feeding you or stop giving you medicine? would they have to respect that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 302.

    I do worry about a future when people are allowed to make this choice:

    What about the old person who feels a burden?
    What about coming under pressure from relatives?
    What about the tax paying masses calling old people on scroungers?
    What about the tax paying masses calling anyone scroungers when they can't work and don't want to lay down their lives?
    I could go on and on here. Correct decision.

  • rate this

    Comment number 301.

    From a purely legal sense, it is not surprising Tony Nicklinson's request failed. In effect, Tony Nicklinson's requested indemnity for those intentionally killing him with his consent on grounds of necessity. Necessity is not normally recognised in the English courts, but was recognised in the Jodie and Mary case, where Mary's death was ruled lawful only as a consequence of saving Jodie's life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 300.

    Where are the lines to be drawn?

    Should children have the right....after all they can be in the same situation as this guy?

    Should we allow families, courts or medical experts a say?

    What if medical advances happen....will the law be flexible?

    "289. I agree, a very complex issue, and one where care must be taken in order to avoid loopholes"

    Manutd77, most complex law ever?

  • rate this

    Comment number 299.

    What is really sickening is the deafening silence from the MP's.

    But yes they'll waste many hours debating voting changes, House of Lords Reforms - those really UNIMPORTANT issues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 298.

    This Court case is more about making a mark. I cannot see in all realistically anybody being prosecuted for assisting in Mr Nicklinson death. Common sense usaully prevails along with public interest.
    In Public

  • rate this

    Comment number 297.

    what a sad case this is, and a warning for all of us.In this particular situation he should be allowed to die,he must be living a nightmare, to prolong it is very cruel.I realise there must be safeguards but in this case he should be allowed his wishes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    My father was diagnosed with a terminal illness, he carried on livinghis life to the full up to the point he could not get out of bed, my mother was having to lift him and change him, nurses did what they could but there is a not enough to provide round the clock support, he ended up in complete agony, why is this acceptable, if it were a pet people would be in uproar.

  • rate this

    Comment number 295.

    How very interesting, sympathy is expressed for Mr. Nicklinson and rated very positively, sympathy is expressed for the health professionals as well, and it is rated negatively, perhaps highlighting the inability of the public to empathise with those who would actually have to take life.

    289. Krokodil
    I agree, a very complex issue, and one where care must be taken in order to avoid loopholes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 294.

    Unless someone can state categorically exactly what happens when you die, what life is really all about, is there an after-life, God, reincarnation, or nothing; then I am not sure that anyone is competent to legislate on this kind of issue. I could not judge it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 293.

    Does it have to be a doctor who actually administers the drugs? If the system was set up for an intravenous injection, then Tony could in theory set it going himself by blowing into a tube to activate a micro switch and pump. A doctor actually sets up the equipment for an execution in the U.S., leaving it to the warder to push the final lever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 292.

    Those of you saying that a person shouldn't have the right to communicate and then be helped with their death obviously haven't been involved in a situation like this.

    So we're supposed to be accountable for actions throughout life, such as stealing, murder and so on, but when we simply wish to end our own life due to terrible suffering, we are finally not allowed to account for our own actions?

  • rate this

    Comment number 291.

    I have never understood the ideology of society.

    Get a horse with a broken leg, shoot it to end it's suffering.

    Get a human with a disease which will make them live the rest of their days in agonising torture making them suffer until their last breath; make it illegal for them to end the pain and die in a dignified way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.

    The court is right that any change should come from Parliament. They must now have a full review & debate on the subject, taking into account the views of their electorate.
    It is not a subject that can be ducked any longer. Medical advances mean that people live when even 10 years ago they would have died, and we are all facing living to old age and possible senelity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    283. b neil JUST NOW Get him to back Julian Assange & the Americans will do the deed.

    Grow up saddo.

    Anyway, in these cases any right thinking person has sympathy, and it needs to be looked at.

    But no rush should be made that could allow abuses to happen when the subject is literally life and death....

    Like the death it ok if the odd innocent is executed?

    Hugely complex.

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    Apalling decision indeed....This poor man has to suffer dreadfully for possibly many years for no reason whatsoever. He and his family have my utmost sympathy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    I can see both sides logically but Tony's emotionally.
    However, to give the power to a human being to legally take the life of another is a heavy burden for a judge to carry for everyone in the country and I can see how law changing should be undertaken by Parliament with the wishes of the public debated and represented.
    I wish they would get on with it though, however tough an issue it is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    I think it's absolutely wrong that politicians and judges should determine this issue. A group of powerful individuals, who cannot empathise with the pain of Mr. Nicklinson, are using their idea of what is 'right' to dictate Tony's life. They should not be able to make this man suffer more just because they wish to impose their morals. Making him suffer is what is truly immoral.


Page 17 of 32


More Health stories



Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.