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High Court rules on assisted suicide

Tony Nicklinson, a man paralysed from the neck downwards after suffering a severe stroke while on a business trip to Athens, yesterday lost his High Court case in which he asked the court to allow doctors to end his life without the fear of being prosecuted themselves for doing so.

Mr Nicklinson is only able to communicate through blinking and has described his life as “a living nightmare” since he suffered the unfortunate stroke.

The case differed from similar “right to die” cases as due to the nature of his condition, Mr Nicklinson would be unable to take lethal drugs himself even if someone else was minded to prepare them for him. In order for them to assist his death, they would have to commit the crime of murder.

Due to the high standard of health and social care available in the modern 21st Century, Mr Nicklinson is expected to have a normal life expectancy, at least a further 20 years. Because of his condition, Mr Nicklinson has no wish to live. His Barrister, Paul Bowen QC, told the court that Mr Nicklinson had “made a voluntary, clear, settled and informed wish to end his own life with dignity, but is too disabled to do so.”

Mr Nicklinson argued for an extension to the common law defence of “necessity” for murder as the alternative – forcing him to stay alive – is worse. They also argued that the government is in breach of Article 8 of European Human Rights legislation which gives the right to ‘privacy, dignity and autonomy’, a right he cannot exercise independently because of severe disability.

Unfortunately for Mr Nicklinson, 3 High Court judges disagreed with him and dismissed these 2 points. In their judgment they made it clear it would be wrong for the court to depart from the long-established legal position that “voluntary euthanasia is murder, however understandable the motives may be”.

Lord Justice Toulson said that although the case was extremely moving, a decision to allow the claim to succeed would have consequences far beyond the present cases and that to do as Tony wants, the court would be making a major change in the law.

The court ruled that if there was to be any change in the law it was for Parliament to decide, not the courts.

Mr Nicklinson said in a statement after learning of the High Court’s decision that he was “devastated by the court’s decision” and “saddened that the law wants to condemn me to a life of increasing indignity and misery.” He added that in his opinion the judgment was “very one-sided” and that he considers there to be grounds for appeal.

Mr Nicklinson’s legal team released a statement saying “naturally it’s a very disappointing judgement we’ve received today, but it’s not altogether surprising. It would take a very bold court, in the first instance, to make the decisions that Tony has made.

Today is obviously not the last word.” It would seem then that Mr Nicklinson and his legal team are prepared to go all the way in his search for a way out of his suffering, which may mean we get a Supreme Court ruling on the matter if the appeal is granted.

Should you wish to make a Will, an advance decision, or discuss any issues surrounding your future health and welfare, please do not hesitate to contact the Wills & Probate team at Blacks on 0113 207 0000

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