Two different cases of people with locked-in-syndrome who wish to control the time and manner of their deaths will be heard together this week (18th – 22nd June). AM will be challenging the Suicide Act and Mr Nicklinson is challenging Murder law.
As a result of a stroke, AM is unable to end his life without assistance. His legal team have launched a High Court challenge to clarify whether medical and legal staff, acting out of compassion, would be prosecuted if they assisted AM with his wish to die, for example, by providing him with information on what care might be available if he were to stop eating and drinking, or by providing assistance in making the arrangements to be assisted to die in Switzerland.
Mr Tony Nicklinson, 58, who is severely disabled following a stroke, wants a doctor to directly end his life (voluntary euthanasia). Mr Nicklinson is unable to directly end his own life due to the nature of his disabilities. Any doctor who acceded to Mr Nicklinson’s request would be liable to life imprisonment for murder.
Mr Nicklinson’s legal case will ask the High Court to consider whether there should be a defence of necessity available to a doctor who directly helps him to die.
Commenting ahead of the two cases, Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying said:
“These cases both raise difficult legal and ethical issues. Dignity in Dying campaigns for a change in the law on assisted suicide, to allow dying, mentally competent adults the choice of a doctor assisted death, within upfront safeguards. Whilst Dignity in Dying does not campaign for a change in the law to allow voluntary euthanasia (direct ending of life) by doctors or others, the issues being explored in these cases are important and should be given a fair hearing in court. There is no doubt that as a society we are better off facing up to these issues and hearing the arguments in full.
“The Director of Public Prosecution’s (DPP’s) guidelines on assisted suicide effectively forgive compassionate amateur assistance to die, but the guidelines also make it very clear that assistance to die from medical professionals is likely to result in prosecution. The AM case is important as it seeks to establish what actually constitutes assistance i.e. what information or assistance compassionately motivated doctors, lawyers and other professionals can provide to an individual. At present there is a real lack of clarity in this area, which causes genuine problems for patients and doctors. People are taking control at the end of their lives, often in desperate and dangerous ways because they cannot talk openly to professionals about their desire for assistance to end their lives.
“We will watch the progression of these cases with interest to see how these issues are resolved.”
Notes to editor:
About Dignity in Dying:
- Dignity in Dying campaigns for greater choice, control and access to services at the end of life. It advocates providing terminally ill adults with the option of an assisted death, within strict legal safeguards, and for universal access to high quality end-of-life care.
- Dignity in Dying has over 25,000 supporters and receives its funding entirely from donations from the public.
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