Right-to-die campaigners Nicklinson and Lamb lose battle


Paul Lamb: "It's unfair and I think it's cruel"

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The family of late locked-in syndrome sufferer Tony Nicklinson and paralysed road accident victim Paul Lamb have lost their right-to-die challenges.

The Court of Appeal upheld a ruling that Mr Nicklinson had not had the right to ask a doctor to end his life. His widow is planning a further appeal.

Mr Lamb who won a battle to join the Nicklinson case also plans to appeal.

But a third paralysed man won his case seeking clearer prosecution guidance for health workers who help others die.

The man, known only as Martin, wants it to be lawful for a doctor or nurse to help him travel abroad to die with the help of a suicide organisation in Switzerland. His wife and other family want no involvement in his suicide.

Campaigners for right to die

  • The late Tony Nicklinson was paralysed from the neck down after suffering a stroke while on a business trip to Athens in 2005. After losing his High Court battle, he refused food and died, aged 58, a week later. His widow is continuing his fight.
  • Paul Lamb, 57, was paralysed from the neck down after a car accident in 1990. He says he endures pain every single day and does not want to keep living - but he has no way out.
  • The anonymous man - or "Martin" - suffered a massive stroke in August 2008, leaving him unable to speak and virtually unable to move. The 48-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, says his life is undignified, distressing and intolerable.

The director of public prosecutions, who would be required to clarify his guidance, is seeking to appeal to the Supreme Court against the decision in Martin's case.

Speaking by means of special computer software, Martin said he was "delighted" by the judgement.

"It takes me one step closer to being able to decide how and when I end my life. I am only unable to take my own life because of my physical disabilities.

"Almost every aspect of my daily life is outside of my control. I want, at least, to be able to control my death and this judgement goes some way to allow me to do this."

'Conscience of the nation'

In the Nicklinson and Lamb case, the decision centred on whether the High Court was right in originally ruling that Parliament, not judges should decide whether the law on assisted dying should change.

The three Court of Appeal judges unanimously dismissed Mrs Nicklinson and Paul Lamb's challenge.

In the judgement, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge said Parliament represented "the conscience of the nation" when it came to addressing life and death issues, such as abortions and the death penalty.

"Judges, however eminent, do not: our responsibility is to discover the relevant legal principles, and apply the law as we find it."

Mr Nicklinson was 58 when he died naturally at his home in Wiltshire last year. His widow Jane, who has continued his fight, told the BBC she was "very, very disappointed" by the ruling, but "not totally surprised".

She added: "We will carry on with the case for as long as we can so that others who find themselves in a position similar to Tony don't have to suffer as he did. Nobody deserves such cruelty.

"Although we lost, the legal team are quite pleased with the outcome - the appeal judges actually upheld a couple of points which the High Court rejected, which is a step forward."

'Too scared'

Paul Lamb wanted the law changed so any doctor who helped him die would have a defence against the charge of murder.

The 57-year-old from Leeds has been almost completely paralysed from the neck down since a car accident 23 years ago and says he is in constant pain.

"I was hoping for a humane and dignified end - this judgement does not give me that," he said.

Jane Nicklinson, Tony's widow: "It is such a grey area that needs to be clarified"

"I will carry on the legal fight - this is not just about me but about many, many other people who are being denied the right to die a humane and dignified death just because the law is too scared to grapple with these issues."

Saimo Chahal, the solicitor acting for Mrs Nicklinson and Mr Lamb, said there was "no prospect of Parliament adjudicating on the issue any time soon" so Paul's only option was to try to persuade the courts that his concerns were "real and legitimate".

But Dr Andrew Fergusson, of the Care Not Killing campaign group, welcomed the Nicklinson and Lamb ruling, saying: "All three judges were very clear on legal, and I think ethical, grounds as well, that the law, if it's to be changed, must be changed by parliament alone. The courts cannot do it."

The British Humanist Association, which has supported Mr Lamb's case, described the matter as the "most important bioethical issue of our time".

It said it should not fall to people who have "already suffered enough" to fight legal case after legal case. Instead, Parliament and government should be putting the work in on changing the law.

Sarah Wootton, of the Dignity in Dying campaign, urged for some parliamentary debate and for MPs to look at the private members' bill tabled by Lord Falconer for the legalisation of assisted suicide for the terminally ill in England and Wales.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    Can people read the actual legal points! This has zero to do with his desire to die, and certainly nothing to do with religion!

    He was asking for it to be made legal for a medical professional or other to essentially 'kill' him with no threat of prosecution.

    This is what the law has serious reservations about. To make legal the act of taking another's life. This is NOT straightforward.

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    Sadly in a way we are all complicate and guilty, we allow our Governments to create and regulate the Rules, that we live by in our society, and everyday we see that they have no empathy or compassion towards the people..
    We as a people need to stand together and tell those who think they control us, Empathy and Compassion, come before Greed,and Profit

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    Who needs Guantanamo bay when it is already legal to maintain someone in constant tortuous pain in UK, indefinately for the rest of their life

    Euthenasia already exists in UK it is practised every day by witholding food/water from patients so they DIE, often WITHOUT family consent.

    Euthenasia is also the basis of Christianity, God apparantly gave his son up to it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    And people wonder why some of us are such vocal secularist. Archaic Laws based on out of fashion religous beliefs still hold way to much sway over our freedom of choice. I do completely agree that this, sadly, is not a issue for the courts, but for parliment, who being what they are wont touch it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    We treat animals better in this country.
    We will put down cats, dogs and horses if they appear to be suffering by saying we're being humane even though we can't actually ask them if they'd like to live.
    Yet human beings that beg and plead to end their misery have no say in the matter and must endure endless pain and suffering till they draw their last breath.

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    most voiced campainers for the right to die are thos wanting it for themselfs, they are then told they cant choose to die by people that have never felt their pain. When their is no qaulity of life who are we to deny them mercy? I will say that assissted suicide is regulated and restricted to uncureable conditions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    Reading under "Public interest factors tending against prosecution" at http://www.cps.gov.uk/publications/prosecution/assisted_suicide_policy.html makes me think that this is a prime example of decent British law. Playing an active part in another's death *must* remain illegal. Leeway at the prosecution / sentencing stage to take account of extreme circumstances is the proper way to deal with this

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    Nobody should be killed before their time. Only God takes life and although I feel deeply sorry for these men, they should feel welcome and wanted in society, rather than a burden, making them want to kill themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    Without intervention many of these people would no doubt die... surely it is therefore more a case of 'right not to be kept alive artificially', and if they are indeed to leave us then it seems fundementally humane to do all we can to assist in making this as swift, painless and dignified as we are able.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    So, the panel make their decision - they stand up from their desk, walk to their car, drive home, stop off for some food, greet their family when they arrive home, play with their kids, walk their dog, make an evening meal, watch TV, playfully put the kids to bed and make love to their partner ... Their lives are pretty sweet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    I don`t want them to hurt me and I don`t want them to decide when I should die.

    I think you are missing the point - it's about the right to choose to die, not for a doctor to decide to kill you!? We allready have a term for that - murder.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    This does seem peverse in a country where suicide is legal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    Very odd legal decision when one considers that the "Liverpool" pathway was not deemed illegal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    The law is so out of step with public opinion on this issue that it is only a matter of time before a sensible right to die policy is introduced. Unfortunately it will come too late for Tony Nicklinson and possibly Paul Lamb. What are these spineless politicians and judges so afraid of ? Everyone deserves the freedom to choose. The tide is turning - don't try to fight it - it's too strong...

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    I fully support the 'Right to Die' and for whatever reason people choose, be it disability, living in pain, depressed or just because they have had a bad day.... What the heck has it got to do with anyone else if you want to die you want to die and it has naff all to do with anyone else!!

  • Comment number 158.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    It's strange how the word "dignity" has been appropriated by euthanasia supporters.

    Oh sod dignity - who cares a jot for dignity? It's a cloak for both sides to hide behind. What I care about is that people are allowed to live the live, die the death they want (providing they don't hurt others in doing so). Am I the only one sick of us trying to tell each other what we should do?

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    What a strange set of paradoxes we create. The NHS is, without fear of prosecution, able to allow thousands to die (who probably wanted to live) through professional neglect whilst the law gets excited over a few people who actually want to die. Moreover, an act of humanity clearly does not, ironically, apply to humans.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    Surely one's life is the most personal piece of property that they own, whereas this decision essentially says your life is not your own to use as you see fit, but belongs to the state.

    And as to saying that people would abuse it, you can't legislate based on the worst of society. Surely a way could be devised to be confident it is the individuals intention to cease living to negate this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    A civilized, humane, and compassionate society would give its citizens the right-to-die option. Those who have no quality of life should be allowed the legal freedom of an assisted death with dignity.


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