Locked-in syndrome sufferer fights for right to end life.

Posted: 19th June 2012

Locked-in syndrome sufferer Tony Nicklinson’s existence of ‘pure torture’ could continue for another 20 years or more if he does not win the right to end his life when he chooses, a High Court judge has heard.
Paul Bowen QC, for 58-year-old Mr Nicklinson told three judges hearing his landmark ‘right-to-die’ case: “Tony has now had almost seven years to contemplate his situation. With the continuing benefits of 21st Century health and social care, his life expectancy can be expected to be normal - another 20 years or more. He does not wish to live that life.”
Mr Nicklinson, who suffered a catastrophic stroke in 2005 while on a business trip to Athens, sums up his existence as “dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable”. A ‘very active and outgoing’ man before the stroke, which left him paralysed below the neck and unable to speak, he now communicates by blinking or with limited head movement.
Mr Nicklinson, who wants a doctor to be able lawfully to end his life without fear of prosecution, describes how he has no “privacy or dignity left” and he says that what he objects to is having his right to choose taken away from him.
Mr Bowen told Lord Justice Toulson, Mr Justice Royce and Mrs Justice Macur that Mr Nicklinson was being condemned to live in a state of suffering and indignity by the current law of assisted suicide and euthanasia. The law was “anomalous and discriminatory” and had not stopped the “widespread practice of euthanasia, but has forced it underground”.
But he told the judges that Mr Nicklinson was not seeking to persuade the court to “introduce an all-encompassing new regime legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide”.
Mr Bowen added: “While he would welcome such a change, he accepts that such a regime can only be introduced by Parliament. However, there is no sign of Parliament introducing such a regime any time soon that would afford the claimant the opportunity of an assisted death with dignity.”
Mr Nicklinson maintained that, in the absence of statutory regulation, he was entitled to “remedy”
Mr Bowen said that worse than the physical discomfort of his situation was the mental pain it caused. His world “is the bed he lies in each night and the armchair beside it, with occasional trips to the commode to which he is moved by way of an electric hoist over his bed”.
He “does not want to die immediately”, said the barrister, who added that Mr Nicklinson has yet to finish his memoirs.
Mr Nicklinson is seeking two declarations from the court:
One is that in the circumstances of his case – and where an order has been sought from the court in advance – ‘the common law defence of necessity would be available to a doctor who, acting out of his professional and human duty, assisted him to die’.
The other is that the current law of assisted suicide and euthanasia is incompatible with his rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights to autonomy and dignity.
Opposing the action, David Perry QC, for the Ministry of Justice, said Mr Nicklinson’s “tragic and very distressing circumstances evoke the deepest sympathy”. But he added: “Notwithstanding the distressing facts of his situation, the defendant submits that the claim for declarations is untenable. The law is well established.”

Mr Perry said there was “no defence of necessity to a charge of murder or assisted suicide if a doctor were to terminate, or assist in the termination of, the claimant’s life”. He further argued that “the state of the criminal law in this respect does not infringe the right to respect for private life under Article 8 of the Convention”.
Mr Perry told the judges: “By this claim, the claimant is expressly seeking to bring about a change in the law which Parliament has refused to change. It would be wrong as a matter of constitutional principle for the courts to seize the initiative from Parliament in this difficult and sensitive area”.
“In summary, the defendant submits that any change in the law of the type proposed by the claimant falls squarely within the constitutional domain of Parliament.”
During a four-day hearing the judges will also hear argument in a judicial review claim by another locked-in syndrome sufferer who needs assistance to end his life. Part of the case brought by the 47-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, involves a challenge to the Director of Public Prosecution's policy on assisted suicide.