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 633.

    The British system really is pathetic. Pass the buck and let Switzerland do it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 632.

    I don't believe that anyone should take a human life. I am fearful of the many guises that rationalise the taking of a life. I believe that being allowed to do so for 'humane' purposes is the thin end of the wedge. I do not trust society to govern itself altruistically where life is fragile and other rewards might come into play. I wish I could but can't. Some absolutes really must be maintained.

  • rate this

    Comment number 631.

    If I understand the ruling correctly, the courts are saying that it's not their place to determine whether assisted suicide should be made legal, this is up to the politicians.

    Politicians make the law, the courts then interprate and uphold the law.

    That said, it's disgraceful how as a civilised society we seem to treat our animals with more compassion in their hour of need than we do people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 630.

    @Praise Him
    I appreciate these people might be in pain and suffering, but that is all the more reason to pray for them.

    Please tell us how praying for them will end them choking on the food they are forced to consume?
    How will praying for them prevent the resultant pneumonia, drowning them in their own saliva?
    Keeping them alive, when nature/god has decided otherwise is barbaric and selfish

  • rate this

    Comment number 629.

    theres a few quid to be made in care costs and such whilst still alive. let him opt out early, no chance. were in this together.

    seriously though.. in this day and age.. people really should be able to depart with dignity. criteria needs discussing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 628.

    Why aren't we allowed to give our loved ones the same dignity that we give our beloved pets when we know that they shouldn't suffer anymore. These people are pleading for release from a painful hell that healthy judges will never understand unless they suffer it too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 627.

    If somebody of sane mind consistently wants to die surely it is their right - and a very special one - to do so. However, the problem arises when they are unable to end their life without help & assistance - whether a family member, friend or medical personage. This then gets horribly complicated with both legal issues & fears of duress. In the meantime assisted death is part of everyday life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 626.

    @462. To political

    Correct, the result may be the same, but the causality is different, and medical ethicists and lawyers recognise that as crucial. Patient has a right to refuse therapy, and Drs need not give it if they think it doesnt work. The patient does not die because of lack of treatment, they die because a disease is killing them. Religion, Law and Ethics all recognise this distinction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 625.

    I agree that people are entitled to have someone help end their life. However, throwing vitriol at the Judge is misguided. The most left leaning of the judiciary, supporting assisted suicide would - rightly - never take it upon themselves to legalise assisted suicide. It is both not the judiciary's role to act as lawmaker ,and too dangerous without regulation which only Parliament can implement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 624.

    so much is wrong with the law in this country,the very same system that allowed little daniel pelka to suffer behind closed doors is also allowing paul lamb to suffer,both suffered indignity,both suffered pain,time to get a grip ,the system is well and truly broken and no longer fit for purpose,govt and its law lords should hang their heads in shame

  • rate this

    Comment number 623.

    With some of my late relatives who lived their last years in great pain, great discomfort and not much of a quality of life - I have no memories of them fit and well. Even those that died when I was in my early 20s.

    I rather have memories of relatives in happier, healthier times than being at death's door for the final 8 years of their lives.

    Unfortunately, its not the case.

  • rate this

    Comment number 622.

    What a strange society we live in. The poor are getting poorer. People are living longer, but many are working longer to pay for pensions. Many young working people cannot afford to buy or rent homes. Many people have nothing to live for, but the law states that they must stay alive even though their deaths would end their suffering and provide more money for others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 621.

    The Government can change the law in a breath when it suits....and take forever when it doesn't. It is a sad day for humanity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 620.

    In these cases the individuals mental capacity has to be assessed. If they have capacity then its fine if they don't they can not be euthanised.It will protect the vulnerable as my sister has learning disability and will never have the capacity to make these choices for herself so no one will ever be able to take her life.There is the safeguard. lets be grown up about this and have a proper debate

  • rate this

    Comment number 619.

    In days gone by the poor guy would have been quietly put out of his misery and not made to suffer, and the state would've looked away. But now laws are more important than anything, especially common sense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 618.

    The Law on this is quite clear and the courts have rightly said it is not a matter for them but is a matter for Parliament. If the Legislature changes the law then the courts can administer it. People would be better to lobby parliament than waste their money to the courts. I feel the courts are right that on such an important matter any changes should be by Parliament and not by the back door.

  • rate this

    Comment number 617.

    613. "It is alright for people to sit in judgement but"...

    Isn't that the point of this measure? To give someone (and it usually does come down to a single individual exercising influence) at sometime to have to sit in judgement. It's a highly dangerous move. The point of a democracy is for society as a whole to decide what it thinks is ethical or not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 616.

    It is disgusting that mercy has been withheld & people like this must endure a living hell.
    After reading the comments from the religious bigots I sincerely hope that the rapture comes very very soon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 615.

    589. The March Hare

    First, there is never dignity in dying, there is only dignity in death. Once dead, does it matter how one dies? Second, the suffering of people in these circumstances is apparently "intolerable". How can any suffering add to what is "intolerable"? Third, there are other options - drowning is one. Simply fall in a bath of warm water. No assistance required.

  • rate this

    Comment number 614.

    We need to focus more on the quality of live one has rather than the final total amount of years you managed to live.

    These people are wanting help to end their lives, not expecting someone else to decide they should not live. If they could, they would end their own lives, they're asking for help and compassion. Surely assisted suicide is better than doctors withholding food/drugs?


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