Friday 23 February 2018

UK Court rejects right-to-die pleas

Cathy Gordon and John Aston

The family of late locked-in syndrome sufferer Tony Nicklinson and paralysed road accident victim Paul Lamb today lost their right-to-die challenges at the Court of Appeal.

Three judges in London rejected the Nicklinson and Lamb cases, but in a majority ruling the court allowed an appeal by a locked-in syndrome sufferer known as "Martin", who sought clarification of Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) guidance relating to the position of health professionals in assisted suicide cases.

Today's ruling was given by the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson and Lord Justice Elias.

Father-of-two Mr Nicklinson, 58, died at home in Melksham, Wiltshire, last August, a week after he lost a High Court bid to end his life with a doctor's help.

Mr Nicklinson, who was paralysed by a stroke while on a business trip to Athens in 2005, had refused food and contracted pneumonia after he was "devastated" by the decision of Lord Justice Toulson, Mr Justice Royce and Mrs Justice Macur.

But his widow Jane vowed to continue the battle in the courts, which she said was "part of Tony's legacy".

During the appeal hearing the judges heard argument that people who are too sick or disabled to end their "unbearable" lives without help are currently being condemned to "suffer in silence or make desperate attempts to kill themselves".

Former builder and father of two Mr Lamb, 57, from Leeds, who wants a doctor to help him die in a dignified way, had won the right to join the litigation to continue the battle started by Mr Nicklinson.

He was not present for the ruling.

Via Twitter, the Nicklinson family said: "We are sorry to say that we have lost our Court of Appeal challenge."

They said they "will continue the legal campaign and appeal again".

The Court of Appeal granted the family permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, the UK's highest court.

But lawyers for 48-year-old Martin, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, welcomed the ruling in his case for "clearer guidance from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for people assisting those wishing to end their own life who are carers or health professionals".

Law firm Leigh Day argued on his behalf that there should be a change to the approach taken to prosecution for assisted suicide as, although it is legal to commit suicide, it is a serious criminal offence to assist someone to take their own life.

They say that currently DPP guidance makes clear that friends or family members would be unlikely to be prosecuted. But Martin's wife does not wish to be actively involved in the steps necessary to bring about his death and he has no other friends or family willing to assist.

Martin needs the assistance of a professional, most likely a doctor, nurse or a carer, to help him to die. Currently the DPP policy does not make clear whether such people are unlikely to be prosecuted. Martin is therefore unable to find anyone to take him to Dignitas.

Richard Stein, a partner from law firm Leigh Day, who represented Martin, said: "This is a crucial victory for Martin and those other people who find themselves in this tragic position.

"He is unable to do anything for himself and without a willing family member or friend he requires assistance from a professional to be able to end his own life.

"This case has been all about giving people the choice to decide when and how they can end their own life. This is a right all able-bodied people have but is denied to Martin because of his condition.

"This is a hugely significant moment in allowing people control. They will be able to seek help from people with no personal connection to them but acting in good faith - most likely to be carers or health professionals - to be able to die with dignity in a manner and at a time of their choosing."

Speaking by means of special computer software, Martin commented in response to today's judgment: "I am delighted by the judgment today. It takes me one step closer to being able to decide how and when I end my life.

"I am only unable to take my own life because of my physical disabilities. Almost every aspect of my daily life is outside of my control. I want, at least, to be able to control my death and this judgment goes some way to allow me to do this."

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