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 325.

    @302 this isn't about someone who can decide on it's own to end his life. For example in Netherlands this needs to be approved by and confirmed by at least 2 doctors (please correct me if it's one or more) and therefore will look at all the aspects. This man deserves his RIGHT to CHOOSE. Maybe correct decision from court, but law change necessary

  • rate this

    Comment number 324.

    This a battle about quality of life. We are told that medical science will be able to keep us alive until we are100. Three cheers until we think about the quality of life. Forcing people to live against their considered opinion seems just as wrong as capital punishment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 323.

    nanny state at work once again

  • rate this

    Comment number 322.

    It's heartbreaking that families in this position have to go to another country to exercise their human rights. Laws like this are a hangover from religious arguments, and shows more than ever why we need to separate religion from state. I wouldn't be surprised now if Tony gets called into an Atos medical and found fit for work because he can press a button, the way this country is going.

  • rate this

    Comment number 321.

    No balls, once again, from the High Court on this issue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 320.

    Strange that they are keeping this guy alive against his wishes and in a nightmare situation , but they allow folk to die who want to live because they cannot afford the drugs that are available ? funny old world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 319.

    #200 I hope for your sake you never suffer such a serious stroke,because, believe me your attitude will be slightly differant.This man was fit 1 minute a vegetable the next,so dont treat these things as a joke ok.

  • rate this

    Comment number 318.

    311. ManUtd77

    It's got to be up there with the most complex laws ever, so many eventualities to cater for, as you so rightly say, "where are the lines to be drawn?"

    I can only think it would have to be on a case by case basis. And then, who should arbitrate? And what if someone is born in a condition that ticks legal boxes.....

    I would not want to draw up this law....

  • rate this

    Comment number 317.

    312.Stuey 678

    "How can anyone have the right to tell this man whether he can or cannot choose to die?"

    No one told him that he cannot choose to die. They told him that the court would not grant the right for anyone else to kill him with impunity. A different thing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 316.

    @Bill Walker (comment 293). In the US, lethal injections are set up and administered by prison warders with IV infusion certificates. The American Medical Association regards a doctor actively participating in execution as unethical. However, Dr Jack Kevorkian practised machine administered killing - the Science Museum has one of his machines. He was eventually convicted of second degree murder.

  • rate this

    Comment number 315.

    Change the law !

  • rate this

    Comment number 314.

    abortion... o.k.

    whats the difference?

  • rate this

    Comment number 313.

    If this gentleman were a dog we would treat him 'humanely' and end his suffering. However, sadly, he is human and so is therefore condemned to endure endless misery. What a tragic day for humanity when we refuse someone mercy on legal grounds... May the day come when humanity takes priority over legal precedent

  • rate this

    Comment number 312.

    How can anyone have the right to tell this man whether he can or cannot choose to die? It's his life and he should have absolute control of when that life ends. The law is wrong, it needs to be changed and I'm sure that one day it will be changed. Althought unsuccessful, I'm sure that Tony effots have helped to make that day sooner rather than later. I wish you well Tony.

  • rate this

    Comment number 311.

    300. Krokodil

    It's got to be up there with the most complex laws ever, so many eventualities to cater for, as you so rightly say, "where are the lines to be drawn?"

  • rate this

    Comment number 310.

    Let the judiciary remain independent. Courts, as we all know, implement the laws passed by the parliament. The parliament is called upon, here, to review its collective conscience. May those honourable personages sitting in the parliament not forget that they represent the collective conscience of a nation. Politicians are aplenty. Where, may I ask, are the statesmen?

  • rate this

    Comment number 309.

    Taking a life is not like a driving test or a divorce.You can't change your mind about it afterwards.
    Those who have the courage of their convictions take life of a loved ones or patients despite knowing they might be examined by a court, but are still prepared to take that risk.
    That is how important life, and death is, and should remain. Killing by form will be the ultimate human rights abuse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 308.

    299. Clive Hamilton
    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.
    They are on an extra long holiday, something to do with the olympics.
    They have known about this case and many others for a very long time.
    The lack of action is appalling.

  • rate this

    Comment number 307.

    Reading the rest of these comments I also have to wonder how convicted criminals can cry to the European Court of Human Rights about how their quality of life can be affected but this case does not qualify for similar rights. As for the person who wants his computer taken away you should not be allowed to post, your comments are just heartless and you should be ashamed of yourself

  • rate this

    Comment number 306.

    I recognize the need for an emotionless decision on this and also the possible abuses. Yet by continuing to deny those who are of sufficiently stable mind the right to chose the time and manner of their death, are we not being terribly hypocritical by denying them the very choice we do not offer to animals who are 'put to sleep to end their suffering'?


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