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Assisted suicide: Severely paralysed man asks High Court to allow doctors to help him die

A severely paralysed man is bringing a case to the High Court that, if successful could have a vast impact on similar future cases involving assisted suicide.

The man, known only as Martin, suffered a stroke that left him only able to move his eyes and to make small movements of his head. He is able to communicate by staring at letters on a computer screen which are recognised by the computer and read out by a digitised voice.

Martin has compiled a statement to be read in court that describes his daily life as "undignified, distressing and intolerable".

He will ask the court to allow medical staff to help him die without fear of prosecution, since to help an individual commit suicide can result in a 14-year prison sentence.

Although new guidelines were issued last year that meant that family members who helped their loved one die were less likely to be prosecuted, Martin is unable to turn to his wife, Felicity, since she is unwilling to be involved in his suicide.

Felicity said: "I can understand his wish to die, but I find it very difficult to come to terms with that.

"I'm not prepared to help him. I would find that very hard to do and to live with the consequences, but I am prepared to be with him during the process to give him support and because I love him."

Martin is unable to himself organise a trip to Switzerland to use the services of the Dignitas clinic, where people can pay to end their own lives.

He said: "It is extremely important to me that I feel able to control when and how I die. As is no doubt appreciated, almost every other aspect of my life is now out of my control and I want, at least, to be able to control my death.

"I am clear that I no longer wish to continue to live and hope that people can respect this wish and now allow me to die. I want it over with without delay."

Human rights lawyers Leigh Day have asked for an interim declaration that lawyers and doctors will not face criminal charges or any other punishment if they attempt to help Martin's case, since simply assessing Martin for his case could be considered as assisting in his suicide.

Richard Stein of Leigh Day said: "The important thing is that lawyers and doctors will know that, providing they have assisted somebody to end their lives compassionately and in good faith, they won't face criminal prosecution or disciplinary action that will affect their livelihoods."

Related links:
Read more on the story (Guardian)
Read about the law on assisted suicide (FindLaw)
Find local specialist solicitors throughout the UK (FindLaw)