Today (Monday 17th July 2017), a judicial review brought by a man with terminal motor neurone disease to challenge the current law on assisted dying is being heard at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. The Noel Conway v Ministry of Justice case, which is supported by Dignity in Dying, will be heard by three judges over four days.
Noel Conway, 67, 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 he is not expected to live beyond the next 12 months. Noel feels that he is prevented from exercising his right to choice and control over his death under the current law. He fears that without a change in the law he may be forced to suffer against his wishes. Noel, supported by Dignity in Dying, has 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.
“I have always been in control of choices about my life, my health and my body. But as I enter my final months of life with a terminal disease, these rights have been taken away from me. I have lived my entire life on my own terms, yet in the face of intolerable suffering and an inevitable death, I am denied a real say over how and when I will die.
“My family and I have come to accept that I will die. But what I cannot accept is being forced to die either at the hands of MND or by taking drastic measures to end my own life. If I choose the former, I may be left completely paralysed and unable to communicate; that is if I don’t suffocate or choke to death first. If I choose the latter, my condition has deteriorated so far that I would need assistance – whether it be here at home or travelling to Dignitas in Switzerland – thereby opening up my loved ones to criminal prosecution. What kind of a choice is that?
“To have another choice – the option of an assisted death in this country – would provide me with great reassurance and comfort, as I am sure it would to many other terminally ill people, whether they chose it for themselves or not. It would allow me to live out the rest of my life and die on my own terms.
“In my eyes, the law simply must change. I look forward to my case receiving a full and proper hearing in the High Court this week.”
Christie Arntsen, 49, a former teaching assistant from Oxfordshire, is one of several witnesses who have provided written evidence to support Noel’s case. Christie was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in November 2013. It is incurable and Christie was told she had a 20% chance of surviving five years from diagnosis and a 5% chance of surviving 10 years.
“I have coped with finding out I have secondary breast cancer, chemo, losing all my hair, surgery and radiotherapy. What I find so hard to cope with is that I have no choice about when and how long it will take me to die. Why can’t I go, when the time comes, as myself, and prevent the distress of the last few weeks or months of barely clinging on to life? The thought of my family watching me suffer as I slowly die is incredibly painful.
“I feel so disappointed that currently my only option is to go to Switzerland, but I am so afraid my family would be held responsible for my decision. If I chose Switzerland I would have to end my life earlier to make sure I was well enough to plan and make the journey myself.
“I am so grateful to Noel and his family for bringing assisted dying back into the foreground. I know that from my perspective my life would better if I knew I had a choice about when and where I die – it would make me want to live longer as I would know I was in control of when enough was enough. To me it is obvious that assisted dying should be an option available to terminally ill people; to have this choice is a fundamental human right.”
Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said:
“The current law is failing terminally ill people like Noel, Christie and thousands of others by denying them their dignity, stripping away their rights and freedoms and forcing them to choose between horrific scenarios most of us can hardly imagine. Dying people deserve better – they deserve our kindness and compassion; they deserve to be listened to.
“Allowing terminally ill people true choice and control at the end of life, including access to assisted dying under strict safeguards, would not be a step into the unknown. We know that legislation can work safely and effectively, as it has for 20 years in Oregon, USA, since extended to five other states. Canada has also implemented legislation and developments look likely in Australia this year. It is high time the UK took note and stopped lagging behind.
“We look forward to Noel’s case receiving the full and proper consideration it deserves throughout this week in the High Court. Dignity in Dying is behind Noel all the way and we are indebted to him, all those who have provided evidence and the thousands of people who have lent their support.”
Noel’s solicitor Yogi Amin, partner and head of public law and human rights at Irwin Mitchell, added:
“Noel would like the choice to be able to die with dignity. 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.
“Three judges will hear his case in the High Court over four days which shows the level of importance this Judicial Review has. The Court will be considering detailed evidence and legal arguments about whether a blanket ban breaches our Human Rights law.”
For further information, photos and to discuss the case with representatives from Dignity in Dying, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org / 07725 433 025 / 0207 479 7732 or email@example.com / 0207 479 7734
For interviews with representatives from Irwin Mitchell, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org / 0114 274 4666
Notes to Editor
About the case
Noel Conway, 67, from Shrewsbury, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a form of motor neurone disease, in November 2014. His condition is incurable and terminal – he is not expected to live beyond the next 12 months.
Noel feels that he is prevented from exercising his right to choice and control over his death under the current law. He fears that without a change in the law he may be forced to suffer against his wishes. Noel is bringing this case against the Ministry of Justice to fight for his right to have the option of an assisted death when he is in his final six months of life. Dignity in Dying is supporting Noel’s case.
The safeguards being put forward in evidence are:
Substantive criteria – that the individual:
- Is aged 18 or above;
- Has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and given a clinically assessed prognosis of six months or less to live;
- Has the mental capacity to decide whether to receive assistance to die;
- Has made a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision to receive assistance to die;
- Retains the ability to undertake the final act(s) required to bring about their death having been provided with such assistance.
- The individual makes a written request which is witnessed;
- The person’s treating doctor has consulted with an independent doctor who confirms that the above requirements are met (having examined the patient);
- A High Court judge confirms the criteria is met after consideration of the evidence;
- Assistance is provided with due medical care; and
- The assistance is reported to an appropriate body
Noel attended the High Court on March 21st to request permission to bring a legal case.
On Thursday 30th March 2017, a decision was handed down denying permission for the case to proceed. Noel Conway’s legal team successfully appealed this decision on Tuesday 11th April 2017, meaning the case will proceed to a full hearing at the High Court. A directions hearing on Monday 22nd May 2017 determined the procedural arrangements for the High Court hearing, namely that it will take place in the week commencing the 17th of July 2017 over five days, heard by three judges. The courts close for summer on Monday 31st July, and reopen on Monday 2nd October. It is anticipated that a decision will be published on the Conway case after the summer recess.
Also on the morning of Monday 22nd May, the court considered the case of Omid T, a separate legal case to that of Noel Conway. Omid T does not have a terminal diagnosis and is calling for assisted suicide to be made available to anyone who is suffering unbearably, not just those who are dying. His case was granted permission to proceed but it will not be joined with Noel Conway’s and is not due to be heard until after the judgment on Mr Conway’s case has been handed down.
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.
For more information, visit www.dignityindying.org.uk
About Irwin Mitchell
Irwin Mitchell is over 100 years old and is one of the largest law firms in the UK. Last year Irwin Mitchell merged with Thomas Eggar LLP expanding its presence in London and the South East and has also acquired specialist Personal Injury firm MPH Solicitors and private wealth firm Berkeley Law in the past few years.
The firm is ranked as a market-leading personal legal services firm in the independent Legal 500 and Chambers UK guides to UK law with over 100 lawyers personally recommended.
For more information, visit www.irwinmitchell.com