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 525.

    People are all different and they get enjoyment out of their lives in different ways. It is very easy for someone like Stephen Hawking to carry on as his life is all about thought, mathematics and particle physics.

    But for someone who enjoys sports and the outdoors the change to being totally passive can be too much. Not to mention being fed and taken to the toilet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 524.

    How disgusting, but typical of this religion obsessed country, who is infested with judges that have either no morals, or are genuinely out of date. This poor man, who is of sound mind, cannot even be allowed to end his own suffering, and yet we can euthanaise dogs and cats to put them at peace. The law is indeed an ass, and this country has nothing to be proud of. What a dump.

  • rate this

    Comment number 523.

    People who are physically able, but mentally disturbed, commit suicide every day. Which is sad, but their right to do so is not legally challenged. So what is the logic for preventing someone who is severely physically challenged but mentally stable from exercising the same right. even if that means they need help.

  • rate this

    Comment number 522.

    quite simply let him die, there is no argument, let him die. If his wife has any sense she will do it herself, take the (wrong) consequences and 50 years from now when the world has some sense, she will be seen as a brave hero.

  • rate this

    Comment number 521.

    What nonsense from Prof John Saunders - the guy is being kept alive and forced to live and couldn't without the intervention of medics. If the care was withdrawn he'd die - he just wants to do that quickly and quietly with dignity - why can't the medical profession see that? Is it in their interests not to see it to justify their jobs and avoid difficult decisions?

  • rate this

    Comment number 520.

    For those who think it is a moral/religious sin to chose to die and blah blah blah, spend the next 24hrs of your life only communicating through the blinking of your eyes!

  • rate this

    Comment number 519.

    512.Over Population said:-
    Lawmakers may have an impossibly difficult task, but Tony and others have an impossibly difficult life.

    But before Over Population said
    No wonder you've got riots in the cities, when you have nutcases making laws. (482)

    Face it, your first comment was simply ridiculous. Now let the informed discussion continue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 518.

    Jane Nicklinson mentioned Switzerland. If the family want him to end his pain, then I'm sure they can get him to switzerland, since the it's illegal for doctors to assist on his death (murder).
    If he really really wants to die, then he might as well go to Switzerland since UK can't assist that.

    Life is such a gift, I hope that we can all make the most of what we have with our lives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 517.

    who gave judges and doctors the right to play god if the person has all his mental capabilitys then it should be up to him to choose if he wants to live or die if he chooses to die then let him die with dignaty in the way he chooses

  • rate this

    Comment number 516.

    What about the money spent on drugs and the care given to these people that don't want to carry on living?

    People that want to live and have cancer are being turned down for medication to kill the cancerous cells.

  • rate this

    Comment number 515.

    Western societies have long upheld traditions of individual rights, liberties, as well as responsibilities. But when it comes to the right to die humanely, scruples and touching concern for everyone's well-being but the suffering person's suddenly spring up out of nowhere. Of course we have to consider this very carefully, but the individual's choice and right must take precedence, as usual.

  • rate this

    Comment number 514.

    Awful! It's his choices.I know there are problems, but we can't just let him continue to live in pain. If someone is of sound mind, and there life has become intolable if that was the requirment i would support in other countries and prevents people being forces into it.what we've got here is a system where people who ''deserve'' to die are forced to suffer but i can top myself now easily

  • rate this

    Comment number 513.

    Bring your dog with locked-in syndrome to a vet and you will cry with relief when your beloved companion is put out of his misery

    But bring a human into a hospital with a terminal disease which causes nothing but unbearable pain and the lawmakers demand that he/she puts up and shuts up

    There is something very sick, disturbing and twisted about this don't you agree?

  • rate this

    Comment number 512.

    @ 503.Gazza

    Lawmakers may have an impossibly difficult task, but Tony and others have an impossibly difficult life, and we should as a society be doing something to ease that burden, not extend it or intensify it ...

    Comprende ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 511.

    If you had an animal that was in the same state you would be considered a cruel person for allowing it to continue living,but if it's a human being then that's ok then!! I t's very easy for some people to be sanctimonious about it when they're not having to suffer what he's suffering but the decision that was made was a foregone conclusion as none of the powers that be has the guts for change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 510.

    This is a very sad case, but I am missing something. We already have Do Not Resusitate policies in hospitals. Surely there is something to be said from that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 509.

    This is a complex issue, but I believe if Tony is suffering so much that he wants to die, he should be allowed to.

    Citing comments by the SPUC (the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children) is completely irrelevant. Abortion is nothing to do with someone's right to die.

  • rate this

    Comment number 508.

    25 Minutes ago
    This court's decision is utter utter stupidity.

    No it isn't it is utterly sensible, they where asked to adjudicate on the impossible. Same as if it went to Parliament.

  • rate this

    Comment number 507.

    This is nothing short of state torture

  • rate this

    Comment number 506.

    I've find myself questioning which is more important, dignity or morality? I would grant Tony's wish based on his right to the same dignified end we grant the terminally ill, after all, society turns a blind eye on morality out of empathy for those people. Is this any different ?

    We need a law that allows assisted dying providing a medical and legal review board certifies each individual case.


Page 6 of 32


More Health stories



BBC © 2014 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.