The Court of Appeal has today (Wednesday 27th June 2018) rejected a judicial review brought by Noel Conway, a 68 year-old man with terminal motor neurone disease, to challenge the current law on assisted dying. The case is supported by Dignity in Dying and was heard at the Court of Appeal on Tuesday 1st to Thursday 3rd May 2018. Mr Conway and his legal team will now appeal to the Supreme Court.
The Court of Appeal judgment, however, reaffirmed the High Court’s previous judgment that the courts have the authority to make a declaration of incompatibility between the 1961 Suicide Act (which criminalised assisting someone to die) and human rights legislation. This is a significant victory in developing the law in this area and was strongly contested by the Government.
Noel Conway, a retired college lecturer from Shropshire, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a form of motor neurone disease (MND), in November 2014. His condition is incurable and terminal. Noel sought to challenge the current law which bans assisted dying because he feels that he is prevented from exercising his right to choice and control over his death. He fears that without a change in the law he may be forced to suffer against his wishes. Noel, supported by Dignity in Dying, instructed law firm Irwin Mitchell to bring this case to fight for his right to have the option of an assisted death when he is in his final six months of life.
Noel Conway said:
“I am naturally disappointed by today’s judgment, though it was not unexpected. I fully intend to appeal it with the support of my legal team.
“This illness has already taken away my ability to breathe independently and I am now almost completely immobile. I know it will also rob me of my life, and I have accepted that. But what I cannot accept are the options I am faced with under the current law. I am told that I can choose between letting nature take its course until I am completely unable to move or communicate; hastening my death by removing my ventilator with no guarantee my suffering can be completely relieved; attempting to end my own life at home in potentially painful and traumatic circumstances; or making the arduous and expensive journey to Dignitas and risking prosecution for any loved ones who accompany me. It is barbaric to force me to decide between these unacceptable options.
“I will keep fighting for myself and all terminally ill people who want the right to die peacefully, with dignity and on our own terms. I want to thank my family, friends and members of the public who have shown such overwhelming support and who continue to spur me on in this fight.”
Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said:
“Although we are disappointed, this outcome was anticipated and we remain undeterred. The judgment confirms that the courts do have the authority to declare the current law inconsistent with human rights, and we will continue to wholeheartedly support Noel and his legal team as they now assess their options for appeal.
“The assisted dying debate should have at its very core the voices of terminally ill people like Noel – the real experts in death and dying. An increasing number of jurisdictions in the US, Canada and Australia have listened to terminally ill people, examined the limits of palliative care and concluded that it is perfectly possible, and indeed necessary, to introduce compassionate, evidence-based assisted dying legislation that provides choice to dying people while better-protecting the rest of society.
“Because our Government has so far failed to do so, Noel is being forced to spend his final months fighting in the courts for his fundamental rights. We extend our thanks and appreciation to Noel and his family for their dedication. We will continue to support them every step of the way.”
Noel’s solicitor Yogi Amin, partner and head of public law and human rights at Irwin Mitchell, added:
“There was a range of evidence before the court which addressed the safeguards that are available to provide an alternative to a blanket ban on assisted dying.
“Noel would like the choice to be able to die with dignity. He has proposed a new legal framework for terminally ill people with robust safeguards. This would be in place of the current blanket ban on assisted dying. The world has changed phenomenally in the past few decades with many medical advances but the law on assisted dying for those who are terminally ill hasn’t changed for more than 50 years.”
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Please note that Noel Conway will not be available for interviews.