19 Jun 2012

Nicklinson right to die case goes to high court

The high court hears details of the life of Tony Nicklinson, who lives with locked-in syndrome and is appealing for the right to ask a doctor to help him die.

Tony Nicklinson took his argument that he should be allowed to be helped to end his own life by a doctor to the high court, writes Katie Razzall. Mr Nicklinson has “locked-in” syndrome: he is mentally as alert as he was before the stroke that paralysed him, but he is profoundly disabled.

He communicates by blinking, is fed like a baby, the court heard, and wants to die.

In a written statement to judges, he summed his life up as “miserable, demeaning, undignfied, intolerable”.

He was not in court to hear the arguments for a change in the law, laid out by his counsel to the three judges who will decide his case. Mr Nicklinson is too disabled to travel from Wiltshire to London for the hearing, but his wife and daughters were there, keeping him updated with tweets and emails.

‘Life of increasing misery’

His email was read out to the judges in which he said:

“I have wanted my life to end since 2007 so it is not a passing whim.

“Legal arguments are fine but they should not forget that a life is affected by the decision they come to. A decision going against me condemns me to a ‘life’ of increasing misery.

“I have no doubt that the judges have heard it all before, but I simply wanted to get it off my chest.”

His lawyers have two arguments. They want to change the law on murder so that a doctor who helps a person who cannot do it to die, will not be prosecuted, as long as the person who chooses death has got permission from a court in advance.

They also argue that the current British law on euthanasia and assisted suicide contravenes Mr Nicklinson’s human rights.

Watch: Tony Nicklinson’s interview with Cathy Newman

Human rights

At the moment, it is an offence to act to end someone’s life, but not an offence to withhold or withdraw treatment, even though it may result in their death.

Mr Nicklinson is so disabled he cannot commit suicide alone. At the moment, he says his option, if and when he wants to die, is to refuse food and water, which would be painful.

As his daughter, Lauren Nicklinson, said outside court: “I don’t want to think about what would happen if we lose. It’s too horrible.”

Unusually, the Ministry of Justice is defending the case. It says changing the law is something for parliament, not judges, to decide. It also argues that Mr Nicklinson’s human rights are not being infringed by the current law on euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The judges will hear arguments on both sides over the next few days, and are expected to reach a decision in July.