The Solicitor - The FindLaw UK Life, Family and Workplace Law Blog

Assisted dying: Tony Nicklinson case to be decided today

The progress of the case of Tony Nicklinson, who was left severely disabled by a stroke and now wishes to be helped to die, will be decided by a High Court judge later today.

Mr Justice Charles must rule on an application from Ministry of Justice lawyers to have the case 'struck out' before argument has been heard, on the basis that such a change in the law should be made by Parliament and not the courts.

Mr Nicklinson, 57, lives in Melksham, Wiltshire with his wife. He suffered a catastrophic stroke in 2005 which has left him with 'locked-in syndrome', a medical condition which has left him unable to move any muscles in his body apart from his eyelids. As a consequence Mr Nicklinson relies on round-the-clock care and can only communicate by blinking.

Mr Nicklinson's lawyers are applying to the High Court for the right to have a doctor assist him in ending his life, which he describes as "dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable." Allowing this to happen would mean changing the law, as presently anyone assisting a suicide can be found guilty of murder.

Mr Nicklinson's wife told the Radio 4 Today programme: "We are asking for it to be legal for someone to end his life. The only way to relieve Tony's suffering is to kill him. There's nothing else that can be done for him," she said.

"He can't do anything. He's completely paralysed and he can't speak. If he has an itch I have to scratch it for him," she added.

However, she went on to say that Mr Nicklinson is not ready to die just yet. Rather, he wants to have the legal power to decide to die when the time is right.

"Twenty years ago Tony would have died. But people are being kept alive with such terrible conditions. Medical practice has become so much better but the law has not progressed with that," she said.

Opponents have argued that the law is clear in granting patients the right to refuse treatment so that they can choose to die. They argue that changing the law to allow a defence of necessity for murder would leave people and doctors vulnerable to prosecution.

Baroness Finlay is a professor of palliative medicine at Cardiff University School of Medicine, and a former president of the Royal Society of Medicine.

"The difficulty is you set a precedent. If you change the law because one person wants something, who do you remove that protection from and put at risk? We have laws to protect the whole of the population," she said.

Related links:

Read more on the story (The Telegraph)

Assisted suicide (FindLaw)

Find a solicitor near you (FindLaw)