Nicklinson court ruling means assisted suicide is set for parliamentary return


Anti-euthanasia campaigners have welcomed a high court decision to reject the legal bids of two disabled men who want to loosen the laws on euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Tony Nicklinson, from Wiltshire, was seeking to give doctors the power to kill him at a time of his choosing, and has already said he will appeal the decision to the Court of Appeal.

Because he has “locked-in syndrome” and is paralysed from the neck-down following a stroke, he would need a doctor or another person to carry out the act.

Nicklinson wanted the court to declare that it would be legal – on the common law grounds of “necessity” – for a doctor to kill him, if sanctioned by the courts in advance. At present, such an act would be seen as murder.

The other man, identified only as “Martin”, also has locked-in syndrome following a stroke and wanted the director of public prosecutions to amend assisted suicide guidance to allow care or health professionals to help him end his life. He is also considering an appeal.

Lord Justice Toulson, one of three judges who heard the two cases, said they presented society with “legal and ethical questions of the most difficult kind” and that “their desire to have control over the ending of their lives demands the most careful and sympathetic consideration”.

But he said that allowing their claims would have “consequences far beyond the present cases”.

He said it was “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” because these were “matters for Parliament to decide”.

Mr Justice Royce agreed, and said that for judges to change the law “would be to usurp the function of Parliament”.

Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick, of the disabled people’s organisation Not Dead Yet UK (NDY UK), which campaigns against legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide, expressed sympathy with both men’s situation but said he was “relieved” with the court’s judgment.

He said: “The judges have made a clear statement that the law cannot be changed in court. I would be very surprised if any appeal to a higher court had any different result.

“They found that in law there is no place for them to go, and that’s right.”

He said that although NDY UK was “deeply distressed” about the two men’s “despair”, it was “still very relieved that the courts found that the danger to other disabled people would be too great a risk to take”.

And he said he hoped that when parliament did consider the issue again – with the Labour peer Lord Falconer set to introduce another bill that would legalise assisted suicide – politicians would “understand all the complexity of the arguments and come to the same decision as the courts”.

In statements, Nicklinson said he was “saddened that the law wants to condemn me to a life of increasing indignity and misery”, while Martin said he felt “even more angry and frustrated now having had this court tell me that I cannot receive professional help to take control of how I might end my own life”.

The two cases are just the latest in a string of legal claims and parliamentary actions aimed at increasing pressure on MPs, peers and the courts to move towards weakening the laws on assisted suicide and euthanasia.

16 August 2012

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