UK Court okays man to have ‘right-to-die’ case heard

Channels Television  
Updated March 12, 2012

A British High Court judge has ruled that Tony Nicklinson, who is paralysed and wants a doctor to be able to lawfully end his life, should be allowed to proceed with his “right-to-die” case.

The 58-year-old from Melksham, Wiltshire, has “locked-in syndrome” following a stroke in 2005 and is unable to carry out his own suicide.

His is seeking legal protection for any doctor who helps him end his life, thereby, the doctor wont have a defence against murder.

The British Ministry of Justice argues that making such a ruling would change murder laws.The Ministry wants the case struck out, arguing only Parliament can change the law on murder.

“Locked-in syndrome” leaves people with paralysed bodies but fully-functioning minds.

The judge’s ruling now means that Mr Nicklinson’s case will go to a full hearing, where medical evidence can be heard.

Following the judge’s ruling that his case can proceed, Mr Nicklinson’s wife Jane read out a statement from her husband saying, “I’m delighted that the issues surrounding assisted dying are to be aired in court. Politicians and others can hardly complain with the courts providing the forum for debate if the politicians continue to ignore one of the most important topics facing our society today.

“It’s no longer acceptable for 21st Century medicine to be governed by 20th Century attitudes to death.”

Mr Nicklinson, who communicates through the use of an electronic board or special computer, said before the ruling that his life was “dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable”.

Mrs Nicklinson has said that “he just wants to know that, when the time comes, he has a way out”.

“If you knew the kind of person that he was before, life like this is unbearable for him,” she added.

She said she did not know when her husband might actually want to die. “I suppose just when he can’t take it anymore,” she said.

Legal arguments

Mr Nicklinson, who is marrired with two grown-up daughters, launched a legal action seeking court declarations that a doctor could intervene to end his “indignity” and have a “common law defence of necessity” against any murder charge.

But David Perry QC, representing the Ministry of Justice, told the High Court that Mr Nicklinson “is saying the court should positively authorise and permit as lawful the deliberate taking of his life”.

He added: “That is not, and cannot be, the law of England and Wales unless Parliament were to say otherwise.”

The case goes beyond assisted suicide as Mr Nicklinson’s paralysis is so severe it would prevent him from receiving assistance to kill himself and he would have to be killed – and that would amount to murder.

Mr Nicklinson is seeking a court declaration based on the Human Rights Act, Article 2 right to life, in effect saying that in his circumstances, his right to life includes the right to end his life in a humane manner of his choosing.

The case is thought to be the first of its kind and represents the most ambitious effort yet mounted to free up laws on the right to die.

Baroness Finlay, professor of palliative medicine at Cardiff University, does not believe the law needs to be altered.

“I would dispute that the only way to relieve somebody’s suffering is to kill them.

“And I would suggest that there are many, many ways that can be negotiated with an individual patient to try to meet their needs without imposing on them anything that would be life-prolonging, if they do not want something that’s life prolonging and our law states that clearly.”

 Locked-in syndrome

  • Condition in which patient is mute and totally paralysed, except for eye movements, but remains conscious
  • Usually results from massive haemorrhage or other damage
  • It affects upper part of brain stem, which destroys almost all motor function but leaves the higher mental functions intact