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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  • Comment number 625.

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

  • Comment number 624.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 623.

    The people who wish to deny Tony Nicklinson or anyone with an incurable disease, the right to die, with dignity, should be made to care for them.

    I think it would not take long for them to change their mind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 622.

    I think the poor man has had an injustice. Some may look at Stephen Hawkin and judge..but I leave you with this ,disabilities can generally be overcome, but to possibly scream inside a body that does nothing but blink 24/7/365 one might well eventually beg for death. If it were your loved one whom pleaded and begged to be "set free" by blinking out a message day in day out..please help me go......

  • rate this

    Comment number 621.

    @Midget but why if they dont want to, should someone be FORCED to suffer for as you say "many years of deep suicidal depression" if they would rather just die? this whole argument stems from the fact that suicide is still illegal, it is illegal to take your OWN life. if it wasnt then this would be a simpler matter. but the point remains, why is it illegal to die? its a natural process

  • rate this

    Comment number 620.

    I have every sympathy with any person in this situation but its a very short step between this move and what the Nazi's were doing in the 30's and 40's.

    There is no law that can be made which would not make this open to abuse. Its a sound decision.

  • rate this

    Comment number 619.

    There are two inescapable truths.

    Some situations in life cannot be made right. Mrs Nicklinson had stated publicly that there would be no winners, whatever the outcome.

    Some effects of disability can never be adequately worked round. From personal experience pain, incontinence and immobility can be frustrating, demeaning and upsetting.

    Where do you draw the line when helping disabled people?

  • rate this

    Comment number 618.

    It matters a lot ! depression can be ended after many years of deep suicidal depression by a sudden realisation of a reason to live, It matters because depression can last many years then just GO ! It matters because depression can take years to come to terms with and you find a way to live with it .. the reason you wish to die matters

  • rate this

    Comment number 617.

    Cyber Tantric
    "Who are they to judge??!!! Are they making a moral decision on someone else's life?"

    They are the judges, empowered by the state to interpret and apply the law. They made a legal, not a moral decision, and they do so every day.

    And in this case, regrettably, their interpretation of the law is that this cannot be allowed. They cannot change the law, that is Parliament's job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 616.

    In GB, the law is an ass, justice is blind, and the establishment doesn't give a toss for us ordinary people. I hope Mr Nicklinson finds some way to relieve this living nightmare. If there is a God, I'm sure He will understand.

  • rate this

    Comment number 615.

    The legislators if they truly believe in disability rights must look at the matter, why because a person suffers a condition like Mr Nicklinson should they be denied the right to terminate their lives in dignity.

    No one should suffer in the way Mr Nicklinson is without option of suicide merely because of a disability befalling them.

    Issue is contentious but must be addressed by parliament.

  • rate this

    Comment number 614.

    @midget what does it matter why they want to die? If they have a long and terrible depression that cannot be treated then if they want to die (after trying a properly supervised course of treatment) then who is to say no? why does one persons desire to have them suffer overrule their desire to end their suffering? what is the basis of the law? why is suicide illegal (not assisted, regular suicide)

  • rate this

    Comment number 613.

    David McGowan

    You've hit the nail on the head there. So long as various people from different medical, social and psychological backgrounds review cases over a set time, they can build up an individual picture of each case. This would make it fairer to those who can be treated, and those who can't, and can't live with the condition any more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 612.

    If the fellow can communicate with blinks, then could a syringe of something like morphine be connected to a pump which "if he was in pain" would allow him to select the pump on a menu and then blink once for a small dose which would be delivered in perhaps 1 minute if he didn't cancel the dose. If he chose to select the pump and then blink it dozens of times, one minute later he would overdose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 611.

    We should have a law where everyone has control over their own destiny. If he doesn't want to live, no one should have the right to force him to stay alive. Playing God? It's playing God to keep someone alive who without medical intervention would be dead.

  • rate this

    Comment number 610.

    Also please do not get me wrong, I want this man to have the right to choose ! but there are ramifications to any law that would alow him to do so ! we need to consider all of them before jumping to the wrong decisions because it felt right to do so !

  • rate this

    Comment number 609.

    @Steve (comment 591) Disability discrimination occurs when an individual, organisation or society in general is holding back a disabled person from doing something.

    Tony Nicklinson's inability to end his own life is because his body will not allow him to take a voluntary overdose. I suggest refusing a disabled person legal latitude that is not normally available is not discrimination.

  • rate this

    Comment number 608.

    Shouldn't the right to die be just as important as the right to life? People are kept alive by machines, when technically they should be dead, all the time. Life and death are both important and the world is vastly overpopulated as it is. Surely if a person is suffering they shouldn't be forced to live?

  • rate this

    Comment number 607.

    if this man was an animal and was being treated in this fashion we would be prosecuting people for animal cruelty?
    when my time is near i hope i have the time to make my own choice...if i were to be subjected to this horrible fate by so called caring humans i would pray for them to suffer the same fate then see what they think??

  • rate this

    Comment number 606.

    (continued from post 603) as long as a provision is made for a mandatory treatment period of X months or X years even so that time was allotted to help the depressed or mentally ill or the sick, but if after say 48 months there was little to no improvement then i think its fair that they have the option to end their life if they so choose.


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