Case will now proceed to the Court of Appeal
Noel Conway, a 68-year-old man with terminal motor neurone disease who brought a judicial review challenging the current law on assisted dying, has today (Thursday 18th January 2018) been granted permission to appeal an earlier decision rejecting his case. The judgment was handed down following an oral hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice on Thursday 18th January 2018. The Noel Conway v Secretary of State for Justice case, which is supported by Dignity in Dying, was rejected by the High Court in October 2017 following a hearing in July but will now proceed to the Court of Appeal.
The High Court judgment on the case confirmed that the courts do 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 pleased that my case will now proceed to the Court of Appeal. I brought this case not only for myself but on behalf of all terminally ill people who believe they should have the right to die on their own terms. Our voices deserve to be heard.
“I have accepted that my illness will rob me of my life, but how it ends should be up to me. Why should I have to endure unbearable suffering and the possibility of a traumatic, drawn out death when there is an alternative that has been proven to work elsewhere? To have the choice of an assisted death in my final months would allow me to enjoy the rest of my life in peace, without fear and worry hanging over me.
“Throughout this case, my family and I have been touched by the outpouring of support and well wishes from the public, others living with terminal illness and those who have witnessed the traumatic deaths of loved ones. To me, this proves beyond doubt that this is an issue close to the hearts of thousands of people across the country. I now look forward to the next stage in my case, knowing I have the strength of public opinion behind me.”
Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive at Dignity in Dying, said:
“We welcome today’s decision and are delighted that Noel’s case will now proceed to the Court of Appeal.
“As well as demonstrating the public’s appetite for a change in the law, Noel’s case has confirmed that the courts do have the authority to declare the law incompatible with human rights legislation. This is a significant step forward.
“Upholding the current ban on assisted dying denies dying people like Noel a real say over how and when they will die and ignores the clear failings in the current law. Noel may no longer have the strength to go to Switzerland for an assisted death and in any case, he should not have to put his family at risk of prosecution by helping him get there. Currently his only option is to refuse use of the ventilator he relies on to breathe for 22 hours a day, and suffocate to death. How can this be more ethical or safe, with no formal safeguards, than for Noel to request life-ending medication within the multiple safeguards proposed through his case?
“When over half of Brits would consider travelling abroad for an assisted death if terminally ill, and two-thirds would consider breaking the law to help a loved one do so, it is clear that the current system simply does not work . Outsourcing death to organisations like Dignitas in Switzerland shifts the cost and responsibility onto terminally ill people and their families when they are at their most vulnerable. This is not the kind, compassionate response that a civilised nation should show its dying citizens.
“The change to the law proposed through Noel’s case is not a step into the unknown. It is based on legislation which has been proven to work safely and effectively in Oregon, USA for 20 years. Nearly 65 million people around the world are now covered by similar laws.
“We now look forward to Noel’s case progressing to the next stage and receiving the full consideration it deserves.”
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.
“Noel would like the choice to be able to die with dignity. He has proposed a new legal framework with safeguards 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 Shrewsbury, 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. The courts closed for summer recess on Monday 31st July, and reopened on Monday 2nd October. A written judgment was handed down on Thursday 5th October, rejecting the judicial review claim. On Thursday 18th January 2018 an oral hearing was held to determine whether Mr Conway and his legal team was granted permission to appeal the decision. The case will now proceed to the Court of Appeal.
- 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, Australia, by only one vote in November 2017.
- Colorado became the sixth American state to legalise assisted dying for terminally ill people in November 2016. It follows California, Montana, Vermont, Washington and Oregon (which first introduced their End of Life Options Act in 1997).
- Canada legalised medical aid in dying (MAID) in June 2016.
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