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".

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.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 545.

    529. ruminations - it is time the medical and legal professions got behind a sensible change in the law rather than support and hide behind their out dated and self interested ethics. Parliament are far more likely to change the law with that support ...........understand?

  • rate this

    Comment number 544.

    532 Alasdair..

    534 Richard C`ve restored my sanity..

    A time to reflect on good health, and how fickle that can be..

    Night night ..

  • rate this

    Comment number 543.

    I feel very sorry for Mr.Nicklinson. He has a condition, which has robbed him of the basic things many of us take for granted. @Four_Winds this is different, he is not being pressured to make this decision, he is the one making this decision himself withoutbeing pressured and he should be respected for having the courage to end his life with dignity. Hopefully surrounded by the people he loves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 542.

    The trouble is people think this would be a 'blanket law' but I think we should have a law where everything is looked at as individual cases. In this case Tony is in full control of his mind and there is no pressure from anyone else apart from those who support him emotionally and he should have the right for others to assist in his right to end his suffering.

  • rate this

    Comment number 541.

    If I was being eaten by lions I would hope someone who shoot me, this is not much different,

  • rate this

    Comment number 540.

    @ 519. Gazza

    I accept my comment was facile. It is born out of frustration. When I look around and witness the insanity that is taking place, the way we are destroying the very planet that gives us life and the very simple solution here to ease Tony's & others suffering by respecting his wishes. When the solutions are so obvious and yet we still continue 'on the road to hell'. My apologies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 539.

    Our Human Rights are broken on a regular basis. Why not this one?

  • rate this

    Comment number 538.

    What is missing from this argument is his ability to make a choice for himself, I can steal or I can commit suicide ! he can not ! maybe the issue should not be to get a doctor of friend to help him make a choice but to give him the means for him to be able to make the choice himself, all that would be offered would be the option most other people have ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 537.

    If this happened to a dog and the owner didn't have it euthanased, he would be prosecuted. Yet we refuse this poor fellow relief from his agony. Imagine what he goes through every day. Locked-in syndrome is probably the worst form of human misery known, completely trapped inside an immobile body and kept alive. Utter cruelty. Time to change the law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 536.

    No law is needed - for the small minority who are able to make this decision they simply need a cylinder of pure Nitrogen and a small room with double glazing and an extractor fan - a bathroom - and they can die very pleasantly in a couple of minutes - no need to make a fuss or draw attention and certainly no need to pay huge fees to lawyers! So Jane have courage - you will not go to prison

  • rate this

    Comment number 535.

    A typical and cowardly decision by a so called judge...pass the parcel back to a fractious and confused parliament where the lords will block any such bill anyway!.

    Morally ethically and humanely wrong.
    Barbaric and pompous!

  • rate this

    Comment number 534.

    Being fully able to take my life, should I wish, I could. But, because I am fully able, I won't. If he were as able as myself (touch wood) he wouldn't either. An horrendous paradox.

  • rate this

    Comment number 533.

    terrible, we treat animals with more respect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 532.

    The courts can only deal with the law as it stands. They can interpret the law but cannot interpret it so as to create such absolutely new law as to legalise murder. That is the job of Parliament.

    There is, however, nothing to stop Tony Nicklinson petitioning Parliament for a Private Act of Parliament and this may be an avenue for him to look at.

  • rate this

    Comment number 531.

    The mental capacity act allows people with capacity to make 'unwise decisions'. If they lack capacity then there is a legal obligation to act in their best interest. In this case, I think, we are either denying a disabled man the opportunity to act on an unwise decision which he is entitled to make or we are failing to act in his best interest. Either way, its not great for disability 'rights'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 530.

    I don't know the solution here:
    It seems fair that the person should have the right to end things when their quality of life is very poor. We do the same for our pets.
    However a doctor should not placed in the situation where they are asked to do harm. That said prison officers in the States are asked to do this.
    The law should be flexible enough to make exceptions provided court agreement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 529.

    521 XFAN..

    ERM...Prof Saunders is spot on..

    You do realise what this debate and ruling is about .

    He can`t kill was asking the judges to rule that murder , in these exceptional circumstances was ok..and the third party wouldn`t be prosecuted ?

    The judges were hamstrung, despite the obvious empathy for him..

    They can`t stretch the Law on murder..

    Understand ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 528.

    We are an animal, we will die, we have been gifted sentience.

    An able bodied person can choose (as my grandfather did, he jumped from the notorious Valley Bridge, Scarborough).

    If an able bodied person can choose, the disabled should be allowed to by proxy if need be...Death is part of us, we will all do it, we should celebrate it and deal with it in an adult fashion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 527.

    A sad and tragic case indeed. However, I can see all sorts of problems if this is made legal. Relatives in dissagreement, those who have given their premission and having remorse afterwards. I do not blame the Law, and medical professions for taking a view which is hard hearted in this matter even I can sympathise with this man

  • rate this

    Comment number 526.

    the man wants to die... what else needs to be said?


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