Right-to-die man wins first step in legal battle
- 27 January 2012
- From the section UK
A man who was virtually paralysed by a stroke has won the first step in his legal bid to pursue his right-to-die.
Known only as Martin, he would require professionals to help as his wife has said she will not assist him.
But current guidance suggests they may be prosecuted, where loved ones would not, and Martin's case is this discriminates against him.
This High Court judgement means lawyers and doctors can discuss assisted dying with him, but only to prepare his case.
In the High Court, two senior judges - Lord Justice Toulson and Mr Justice Charles - said it was a "tragic case" which raised legal and ethical issues.
They said that, in order to prepare his case properly, his team needed to be able to talk to individuals or organisations - including Dignitas in Switzerland - which might be able to assist Martin, 47, in ending his life and to take statements from him.
They permit those discussions for the "broad purpose" of "stating that the solicitors may obtain information from third parties and from appropriate experts for the purpose of placing material before the court and that third parties may co-operate in so doing with out the people involved acting in any way unlawfully".
Rosa Curling, from solicitors Leigh Day & Co who are representing Martin, said: "We are grateful for the court's judgment handed down today, which confirms that we can press ahead with the preparation of our client's case without fear of criminal and/or disciplinary action being taken against us.
"Martin has made clear to us that he wishes to end his life and, thanks to the judgment handed down today in the High Court, we can now proceed with preparing his legal claim.
"We can instruct doctors to advise him on his options regarding his wish to die and also take steps to identify an individual who might be willing to assist him in taking his life."
However, Martin's lawyers made it clear the ruling was specific to this case.
Before Martin's stroke in 2008 , he was a keen rugby player and cyclist. But he is now immobile, only able to move his head and his arms, toes and throat slightly and relies on full-time carers.
He cannot speak and relies on a computer to communicate.
Martin wants to go to the Dignitas centre in Switzerland in order to die, but would need help from others to do so.
Assisting suicide is against the law but in 2010 the Director of Public Prosecutions published guidance for use by prosecutors in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The guidelines have been interpreted as providing some reassurance to family members who help relatives to die.
But there is a fear that prosecution could be more likely if the person involved is "acting in his or her capacity as a medical doctor, nurse, other healthcare professional, a professional carer (whether for payment or not), or as a person in authority".
Since Martin does not have a close family member willing to assist him, he decided to challenge the guidelines.