Locked-in man continues legal fight for 'right to die'

By Jane Dreaper
Health correspondent, BBC News

media captionMartin's wife spoke to the BBC's Jane Dreaper about her husband's torment

The wife of a man whose legal challenge was heard alongside Tony Nicklinson's has spoken of her husband's determination to continue his fight.

He wants professionals such as doctors to help him end his life, without them having the fear of prosecution.

The man, who can only be known as Martin, also has "locked-in" syndrome after a stroke four years ago.

Lawyers will hear in the next few weeks whether they are allowed a full hearing at the Court of Appeal.

Martin, 47, is seeking professional help - possibly resulting in a trip to the Swiss organisation Dignitas - to end his life.

His wife would be unlikely to be prosecuted if she assisted his suicide, but she cannot bear to help him.

She told BBC News: "I don't want him to die but I've got to respect his wishes.

"As much as I might not want him to go, that's his decision. I could never end somebody's life. That's who I am.

"Some people with locked-in syndrome are able to thrive on what life they have - but certainly for Martin and Tony, it's not what they wanted. It's very difficult for them to cope with living that life.

"He has the option of refusing food. Since he's known that the courts would allow that and not make him be force-fed, he has far more of an inner peace. But that would be a traumatic way to die for him and those around him.

"We all have choices in life but he's not able to have a choice or to have a say in how his life ends.

"For Martin, his quality of life is not what he wants and he can't see a way out of that."

Reduced to tears

Tony Nicklinson was seeking permission for a doctor to be able to lawfully terminate his life in the UK, by creating a new defence for murder.

Martin wanted a change in prosecutors' guidance, which is much less tolerant of anyone acting in a professional capacity. Currently helping someone end their life is a criminal offence which can lead to 14 years in prison.

Last month, the High Court turned down the bid by both men to change the law, saying it was for Parliament - not the courts - to decide these matters.

Doctors' leaders welcomed the ruling. So far, neither MPs nor members of the Scottish Parliament have shown an appetite to change the law.

Campaigners against assisted suicide fear that any change in the law would erode the rights of other severely disabled people.

Tony Nicklinson died six days after the judgement. He was deeply upset by the ruling, and contracted pneumonia after refusing food.

Martin's wife, who is a nurse, spoke of how her husband - previously a "butch" man - was often reduced to tears since suffering the brain stem stroke.

He spends his days watching DVDs of action films and rugby matches, and listening to music.

He cannot speak and is fed by people putting food into his mouth. He is able to swallow.

Decision expected

His wife broke down as she said: "It's hard because it's tiring. Every day is difficult at home - you never know what the day is going to bring. Life is very stressful.

"We have to have a 24-hour care package for Martin because he needs someone watching him or being there the whole time to make sure he's okay.

"I think Martin just finds he's a burden to everyone around him because he's so reliant on other people to care for him, even down to silly little things like scratching his nose.

"You can't even have a proper conversation, or share things like we did before the stroke.

"I don't think we're going to go down the road that's often brought up, that people are going to be coerced into ending their lives.

"I think there has to be strict rules and regulations. It has to come from the individual themselves if they have the capacity, which Martin does, on the decision to end his life."

Martin's legal team has applied for leave to appeal. It expects a decision in the next few weeks.

His solicitor, Rosa Curling, of Leigh Day and Co, said: "Martin needs to know what his options are. We're seeking better clarification on the guidelines from the Director of Public Prosecutions.

"At the moment, there's a real risk that a professional who helps Martin would be prosecuted.

"The courts have said that if he chose to stop eating, he would be given pain relief to help him. But he wants to keep open the option of going to Dignitas."

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