Noel Conway, a 68-year-old man with terminal motor neurone disease who has brought a judicial review challenging the current law on assisted dying, will have his case heard at the Court of Appeal from today, Tuesday 1st May 2018. It is set to commence at 10.30am at the Royal Courts of Justice in London and last for three days. The Noel Conway v Ministry of Justice case, which is supported by Dignity in Dying, was previously rejected by the High Court but permission to appeal was granted in January 2018.
The High Court judgment on the case, handed down in October 2017 following a hearing in July 2017, confirmed 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 – a significant victory in developing the law in this area.
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.
“I am now dependent on a ventilator for up to 23 hours a day and the only movement I have left is in my right hand, head and neck. I know this decline will continue until my inevitable death. This I have sadly come to terms with, but what I cannot accept is that the law in my home country denies me the right to die on my own terms.
“Why should I slowly suffocate over days or weeks by removing my ventilator – the only legal option available to me in the UK? Why should I have to spend thousands of pounds, travel hundreds of miles and have my family risk prosecution for helping me get to Switzerland for an assisted death? Why can I not be given the chance to say goodbye to my loved ones and go with dignity, in my own home, when the time is right for me?
“I’ve been touched by the outpouring of support and well wishes I’ve had from members of the public, others nearing the end of their lives and people who have seen just how much damage our broken law can do. For all of these people, I will keep on fighting.”
On Monday 30th April 2018, MPs and Peers were invited to attend a briefing on the Noel Conway case and speak to people personally affected by the ban on assisted dying, including two high profile patrons of Dignity in Dying.
Sir Patrick Stewart told attendees:
“A dear friend of mine was in great pain with multiple cancers throughout her body. She attempted to end her own life with an overdose of medication before finally resorting to suffocating herself with a plastic bag. How can we continue to support the status quo when it forces dying people to resort to such drastic measures?”
Prue Leith spoke of her brother, who “suffered months of agony and a horrific death from bone cancer.” She added, “David’s doctors would not give him enough morphine ‘for fear he’d become addicted’. The real reason, of course, was the fear of being prosecuted for unlawful killing if the extra morphine should hasten his death. We should not put patients or doctors in this untenable position.”
Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said:
“In the past few months we have seen Hawaii become eighth jurisdiction in the US to allow assisted dying – meaning over 60 million Americans will soon be covered by laws that give true choice and control to dying people. Victoria has become the first Australian state to follow suit, with a similar proposal losing by just one vote in New South Wales. Closer to home, politicians on the British Crown Dependency of Guernsey are set to vote on whether to do the same in May.
“Our elected representatives in the UK, however, continue to lag shamefully behind the rest of the world on this important issue. A dying man is now giving up his final months to fight for the right to die on his own terms. Terminally ill people like Noel should be shown compassion and respect but instead, our outdated laws force dying people into taking drastic measures in order to salvage some control over the end of their lives. We extend huge thanks and appreciation to Noel and his family for their dedication and look forward to his hearing at the Court of Appeal.”
Noel’s solicitor Yogi Amin, partner and head of public law and human rights at Irwin Mitchell, added:
“Noel will now get to present his case in the Court of Appeal. The evidence is significant and Noel believes that more scrutiny needs to be given to decide whether the current blanket ban is fair. The High Court confirmed in its judgment that the courts do have the authority to make a declaration of incompatibility between the 1961 Suicide Act and human rights legislation. Our British constitution allows judges to uphold the rule of law.
“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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Notes to Editor
About the case
Noel Conway, 68, from Shropshire, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a form of motor neurone disease, in November 2014. His condition is incurable and terminal.
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. A directions hearing on Monday 22nd May 2017 determined the procedural arrangements for the High Court hearing, which took place Monday 17th July 2017 for three and a half days, presided over by three judges. A written judgment was handed down on Thursday 5th October, rejecting the judicial review claim. On Thursday 18th January 2018 Mr Conway and his legal team were granted permission to appeal the decision. The case will now proceed to the Court of Appeal on Tuesday 1st May 2018.
The true cost of the current law
Currently, every 8 days  someone travels to Switzerland from Britain for a legal assisted death – a process which costs £10,000 on average  and often causes people to die earlier than they would have wanted in order to be well enough to make the journey. Recent polling found that over half (53%) of Brits would consider travelling abroad for an assisted death if terminally ill and two-thirds (66%) would consider breaking the law to help a loved one do so, yet only a quarter (25%) would be able to afford it . A further 300 terminally ill people end their own life in the UK every year .
 Polling conducted by YouGov.
- Hawaii (in April 2018) and Colorado (in November 2016) have legalised assisted dying for terminally ill people, following California, Montana, Vermont, Washington state, Washington D.C. and Oregon (which first introduced the Death with Dignity Act in 1997).
- Victoria became the first Australian state to pass a Bill legalising assisted dying for terminally ill people in November 2017. A similar Bill was defeated in New South Wales by just one vote in November 2017.
- Canada legalised medical aid in dying (MAID) in June 2016.
- Politicians on the British Crown Dependency of Guernsey are set to vote on an assisted dying ‘requête’ (motion) on the 16th of May 2018, brought by Chief Minister Gavin St Pier.
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