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Terminally ill man seeks permission from court to pursue Judicial Review on Assisted Dying

A man with terminal motor neurone disease is seeking permission from the court to launch a legal challenge. He wants to bring a judicial review which could result in a change to the law on assisted dying to allow terminally ill adults who meet strict criteria to make their own decisions about ending their lives. The permission hearing will take place on 21st March 2017 at the Royal Courts of Justice.

“I’m going to die anyway. It’s a question of whether I die with or without suffering and on my own terms or not” – Noel Conway

Noel Conway, retired college lecturer, 67, from Shrewsbury, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a form of motor neurone disease, in November 2014. His condition is incurable and he is not expected to live beyond the next 12 months.

Before his illness Noel enjoyed hiking, cycling and travelling but his deteriorating condition means that whilst he retains full mental capacity, his ability to move, dress, eat and deal with personal care independently has diminished considerably. Noel is also dependent on a ventilator to breathe overnight and much of the day, as his breathing muscles continue to weaken.

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 to fight for his right to have the option of an assisted death when he is in his final six months of life.

A separate campaign was recently launched as a way for people to show their support for Noel in his upcoming legal battle – you can pledge your support below:

Explaining his decision to pursue the case, Noel said:

“I feel very strongly that it is a dying person’s right to determine how they die and when they die. The current law denies me this right. Instead I am being condemned to unbearable suffering in my final months. I may die by suffocation or choking, or I could become completely unable to move or communicate. The only way for me to have some control is to refuse use of my ventilator, but there is no telling how long it would take for me to die, or whether my suffering could be managed. I am not prepared to spend the thousands of pounds needed for an assisted death abroad, nor do I want to travel far from home, away from all my loved ones – in any case I may no longer be well enough to travel.

“I’m going to die anyway. It’s a question of whether I die with or without suffering and on my own terms or not. I’m bringing this case not just for me, but for all others facing terminal illness who want and deserve to have the option of a safe, dignified assisted death available to them in the UK.”

Noel, supported by Dignity in Dying, has instructed law firm Irwin Mitchell to seek permission for a Judicial Review on the grounds that the current law contained in the Suicide Act 1961 is incompatible with Noel’s right to private life, which includes being able to make decisions about how his life ends. The case will present evidence on the eligibility criteria and clear safeguards that could form part of a workable legal framework on assisted dying and will take place on 21st March 2017. If permission is granted, there will be a full hearing of the case in the High Court later this year.

Noel is a member of the organisation Dignity in Dying, which is supporting the case. Dignity in Dying campaigns for everyone to have the right to a good death, including the option of assisted dying for terminally ill, adults with mental capacity – something supported by 82% of the population.

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said:

“Like Noel, we firmly believe that those who are terminally ill should be able to control and manage their final weeks and months of life humanely and with dignity. People should have the right, when dying, to die well and that simply is not happening under the current law. Instead of being shown compassion and kindness when they need it most, Parliament has turned its back on dying people by upholding the current blanket ban on assisted dying.

“Ignoring the issue does not make it go away, however. Every eight days someone from Britain travels to Dignitas for an assisted death, but that is simply out of reach for the vast majority of dying people who don’t have £10,000, the strength to travel, or loved ones willing to risk prosecution by accompanying them. Three hundred terminally ill people end their own lives at home every year, behind closed doors and in traumatic circumstances. Many hundreds more, like Noel, are forced to endure unbearable suffering until they die of their illness.

“Noel deserves better, as do all terminally ill Britons – they deserve choice and control at the end of life. He is nobly dedicating his final months to fighting in the courts for these rights and freedoms; we support him every step of the way and we hope Noel’s case will get permission to proceed to a full hearing as a matter of urgency.”

Yogi Amin, partner and head of public law at Irwin Mitchell, added:

“Noel is an extremely brave and proud man who is supported by his loving family. He 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.

“Noel wants the law changed so that it respects an individual’s choice about dying with dignity. This situation is clearly traumatic for the individuals involved and their families who are often torn between not wanting to see their loved one suffer and also not wanting to lose them and we commend Noel for his bravery in bringing this important legal case.”

UPDATE 21/03/17

Today the judges who heard the Noel Conway permission hearing have reserved judgement. They will hand down a written judgement in “a relatively short time”.

***ENDS***

Photo opportunities of Noel and his wife Carol outside court will be available between 9.45am and 10am. We expect the hearing to commence at 10.30am. For photos or information about Noel or interviews with Sarah Wootton of Dignity in Dying please contact Ellie Ball on 0207 479 7732 / 07725 433 025 or ellie.ball@dignityindying.org.uk

For a legal perspective on the case and interviews with Yogi Amin, please contact the Irwin Mitchell press office on 0114 274 4666 or pressoffice@irwinmitchell.com

Notes to Editors

The case

The case is between Noel Conway and the Ministry of Justice. Papers have been issued and the next stage is for the courts to decide whether the case should get permission to proceed. If permission is granted following the hearing on 21st March, there would be a full hearing of the case in the High Court.

Legal background

  • A case brought by Tony Nicklinson who suffered from paralysis after a stroke was ultimately dismissed by the Supreme Court in 2014, with judges stating that it was important Parliament debated the issues before any decision to change the law was made by the courts.
  • Noel’s case is different to the Nicklinson challenge in that Noel has a terminal illness and his legal team are setting out a strict criteria and clear potential safeguards to protect vulnerable people from any abuse of the system. These include:
  1. that the adult is suffering a terminal illness diagnosed with six months or less to live;
  2. medical evidence confirming the individual has mental capacity to make the decision;
  3. evidence of the person’s wishes and that they were informed, clear, settled and voluntary;
  4. medical professionals involved would report the assistance given to an appropriate person or organisation;
  5. a High Court judge could be asked to confirm the criteria has been met.

International developments

Following developments this year, six states in the USA are covered by assisted dying legislation.

  • On the 9th of June 2016 California implemented the End of Life Options Act, which was signed into law on the 11th of September 2015, the same day that an Assisted Dying Bill was defeated in the UK’s House of Commons.
  • On the 8th of November 2016 the people of Colorado voted in favour of implementing a similar Act.
  • On the 15th of November 2016 the Council of the District of Columbia approved its own assisted dying Bill. The Mayor must now vote on whether to approve it.

Canada passed legislation on the 18th of June 2016 which allows adults with a serious and incurable disease in enduring and intolerable suffering to request an assisted death.

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

Irwin Mitchell Scotland LLP is a separate Scottish legal practice regulated by the Law Society of Scotland and has an office in Glasgow

For more information, visit www.irwinmitchell.com

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.