Court denies man right to ask doctor to end his life

Channels Television  
Updated August 17, 2012

Tony Nicklinson broke down in tears after losing his landmark legal battle for the right to end his life when he chooses with a doctor’s help.

He said he had been condemned by the law to ‘a life of increasing indignity and misery ‘as his wife, Jane, comforted him, saying her husband was ‘absolutely heartbroken’.

The 58-year-old father of two from Melksham, Wiltshire, is mentally sound but paralysed from the neck down and unable to speak.

For the past seven years he has not been able to move anything apart from his head and eyes following a severe stroke while on a business trip to Athens. His only means of communication is via a computer triggered by blinks and head movements.

Mr Nicklinson has been battling for two years to persuade three judges at the High Court to rule that if, and when, he decides he wants to die, doctors will be immune from prosecution if they help him.

The judges gave him the devastating news that only Parliament can change the law of murder so that doctors or helpers can step in to assist someone to die. They added that if no doctor was allowed to help Mr Nicklinson die, then his only option would be to die by starvation.

The ruling means that 58-year-old Mr Nicklinson faces decades entirely dependent on others to care for his every need.

However his wife said they would appeal the judgement. She and their grown-up daughters Lauren and Beth all support his legal battle.

Speaking through his computer, Mr Nicklinson said: ‘I am devastated by the court’s decision.

‘Although I didn’t want to raise my hopes, it happened anyway because a fantastic amount of work went into my case and I thought that if the court saw me as I am, utterly miserable with my life, powerless to do anything about it because of my disability, then the judges would accept my reasoning that I do not want to carry on and should be able to have a dignified death.

‘I am saddened that the law wants to condemn me to a life of increasing indignity and misery.’

Mrs Nicklinson, 56, said: ‘Tony has to either carry on like this until he dies of natural causes or starves himself.’

Right-to-life campaigners said the ruling would protect the vulnerable from pressure to commit suicide or from involuntary euthanasia.

Mr Nicklinson’s case was a joint one with a 47-year-old known only as Martin because his family wishes to preserve their privacy.

He suffered a stroke four years ago and is unable to speak or move, except for small movements of his head and eyes.

Lord Justice Toulson, sitting with Mr Justice Royce and Mrs Justice Macur, rejected the claim of both men that they should be allowed help with death under Article Eight of the European human rights charter, which guarantees the right to private and family life.

Martin’s claim that the Director of Public Prosecutions must be asked to publish new guidelines allowing others to help him die was also rejected.

Lord Justice Toulson described the men’s cases as ‘tragic’.

He said their plight was ‘deeply moving’, but added: ‘their desire to have control over the ending of their lives demands the most careful and sympathetic consideration, but there are also other important issues to consider.

‘A decision to allow their claims would have consequences far beyond the present cases.

‘It is not for the court to decide whether the law about assisted dying should be changed and, if so, what safeguards should be put in place.

‘Under our system of government these are matters for Parliament to decide, representing society as a whole, after Parliamentary scrutiny, and not for the court on the facts of an individual case or cases.’

The judge said Mr Nicklinson ‘wants to be able to choose to end his life by voluntary euthanasia.’

‘This does not mean that he necessarily wants to end his life immediately.

‘At the moment he thinks that he would probably wish to end it in a year or two, but he wants to establish the right to die with dignity at a time of his choosing’.

He added that because Martin ‘finds his current life unbearable, he wishes to end it as soon as possible’.

However, Martin’s wife, a nurse, was unwilling to help him die.

‘His options under current law are either to travel to the Dignitas clinic in Zurich to get help with suicide, or to starve himself.

Mrs Nicklinson said her husband was reluctant to go to the Dignitas clinic.

‘We could do Switzerland but it’s very expensive and he doesn’t see why the hell he should have to go to a foreign country to die in the middle of an industrial estate,’ she said.

Right-to-life campaigner Dr Andrew Fergusson of the Care Not Killing Alliance said the ruling ‘confirms the simple truth that the current law exists to protect those without a voice: the disabled, terminally ill and elderly, who might otherwise feel pressured into ending their lives.’

He added: ‘It confirms the view that even in a free democratic society there are limits to choice. Every law limits choice and stops some people doing what they might desperately wish to do, but this is necessary in order to protect others, especially the most vulnerable in our society.

‘Hopefully the decision to reject both cases will now draw a line once and for all under legal debate and allow decision-makers and society to focus attention on how we care for the terminally ill and severely disabled.