Campaigners face new euthanasia battle


Disabled activists campaigning against the legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia are facing yet another attempt to force the government to weaken the law.

Lawyers for Tony Nicklinson, a stroke survivor with high support needs, announced this week that they want the director of public prosecutions (DPP) to issue guidelines stating when it would be in the public interest to prosecute cases of euthanasia.

They said that Nicklinson, who can only move his head and eyes, has made a “clear and settled” decision that he wants to die when ready to do so, but is unable to carry out that wish himself.

He wants his wife to be able to end his life without facing prosecution for murder.

The case is similar to that of Debbie Purdy, who used the courts to force the DPP to list the factors to be considered by prosecutors when deciding whether to charge someone with assisted suicide.

But Nicklinson wants the DPP to issue guidance for cases of euthanasia, in which someone actively takes a disabled person’s life, rather than assisting them to take their own life.

The DPP, Keir Starmer, has refused to issue new guidance because he believes existing guidelines and advice for prosecutors are “sufficient”.

Nicklinson’s lawyers this week issued legal proceedings in the high court seeking a judicial review of the DPP’s refusal to issue new guidance.

But the Care Not Killing alliance – whose members include RADAR – said the current law “acts as a powerful deterrent” and changing the law was opposed by “the vast majority of disabled people and disability rights organisations in our country” and would “contribute to a mindset that the lives of sick or disabled people are somehow less worth living”.

In a witness statement, Nicklinson said he had “no privacy or dignity left” and added: “I am fed up with my life and don’t want to spend the next 20 years or so like this.”

Saimo Chahal, Nicklinson’s solicitor, said: “The law of murder is inflexible and the Law Commission was right when, in 2006, it recommended that the law should be reviewed, particularly in the context of mercy killing.”

A spokeswoman for the DPP said there were “a number of important distinctions between assisted suicide, euthanasia and so-called mercy killing”.

She said: “Suicide, whether assisted or not, and murder are very different acts in that the former requires a person to take their own life, whereas the latter involves a person doing an act that ends the life of another.”

22 July 2010


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