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.

'Misery'

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".

'Untenable'

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
    +15

    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
    -82

    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
    -48

    Comment number 198.

    The right to die or the right to live. One man with a Twitter following is not any reason to change laws that will suit him - yet affect thousands of others who are not able to articulate their views.

    Bad laws are often made by emotional/judgemental responses.

  • rate this
    +101

    Comment number 96.

    If the gentleman in question is in full control of his faculties, is not being pressured by anyone else (that's very important) and is determined in his wish to die, then he should be allowed to do so, and i say that as someone who believes in a creator god, he can't be blamed if the pain in his life is too great to bear, and he should be helped to pass on with dignity.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 93.

    This is a highly emotive case, but actually changing the law requires much more thinking, as the professor's interview makes clear. Giving someone the right to kill another person might seem uncontroversial in this case, but the precedent has major repercussions. It is a right that could be misused, in ways we would consider far more barbaric than keeping poor Mr Nicklinson alive.

 

Comments 5 of 12

 

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