Right to die appeal dismissed – They’ve lost the battle but will they win the war?

Katherine Jordan

Katherine Jordan

The Court of Appeal has upheld the High court decision that denied Tony Nicklinson the right to die. The decision confirms the longstanding legal principle that assisted suicide is unlawful.

Tony Nicklinson suffered a stroke whilst on a business trip in Athens in 2005 which left him paralysed from the neck down.  Mr Nicklinson could only communicate by blinking and needed round-the-clock care.

Mr Nicklinson described his life as ‘undignified and intolerable’. He launched a legal battle in 2010 challenging the law on mercy killings. Mr Nicklinson was too disabled to take his own life therefore he sought for a doctor to end his suffering without fear of prosecution.

Mr Nicklinson was heartbroken after losing his battle at the high court and died a week later after refusing food and contracting pneumonia.

Joining forces

Paul Lamb, a road accident victim who also suffers from locked-in syndrome, joined the legal battle and appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal.  It is alleged that under the current law the claimants Article 8 right to respect for family and private life is breached.

Mr Lamb has said he is ‘absolutely gutted’ that the appeal has been dismissed but vows to continue fighting for the right to die. The family have been given the go-ahead to appeal to the Supreme Court to seek a final word on the matter.

Treading on the toes of parliament?

Although the Court of Appeal is deeply moved by the tragic plight of Mr Nicklinson and Mr Lamb they maintain that it is a matter for parliament. The role of the judiciary is to apply the law not to engage in creative judicial law making.

Decriminalising assisted suicide will not just have legal implications. It is a matter of significant social, religious and political importance. It is parliament who represents the conscience of the people therefore, in the judiciary’s opinion, only parliament is in a position to make such a drastic change to the law.

The silver lining

The high court has ruled that clearer guidance is required as to the position of a doctor, nurse or social worker who is a party to an assisted suicide. As things stands, current guidance from the DPP indicates that it’s unlikely that criminal proceedings will be brought against family or friends.

The claimant, who is known as Martin, suffers from locked-in syndrome and wishes for a doctor to accompany him to Switzerland to die. It will be interesting to see whether a doctor can be prosecuted in such circumstances.

Katherine Jordan
Private Client Department  
0113 227 9231

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