Locked-in syndrome victim Tony Nicklinson is being condemned to live in a state of suffering and indignity by the current law of assisted suicide and euthanasia, the High Court heard today.
A barrister representing Tony Nicklinson, 58, who wants a doctor to be able to lawfully end his life, told three judges in London that he was not seeking to persuade the court to "introduce an all-encompassing new regime legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide."
Paul Bowen QC, speaking in a packed courtroom, added: "While he would welcome such a change, he accepts that such a regime can only be introduced by Parliament.
"However, there is no sign of Parliament introducing such a regime any time soon that would afford the claimant the opportunity of an assisted death with dignity."
Mr Nicklinson, from Melksham, Wiltshire, maintained that in the absence of statutory regulation he is entitled to "remedy" from the court.
Mr Bowen said the current law was "anomalous and discriminatory" and had not stopped the "widespread practice of euthanasia but has forced it underground".
During a four-day hearing Lord Justice Toulson, sitting with Mr Justice Royce and Mrs Justice Macur, will hear argument in a further "landmark" judicial review action brought by a man who suffered a "massive" stroke three years ago at the age of 43.
The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, but is referred to as Martin or AM, is unable to move, is able to communicate only by moving his eyes, requires constant care and is entirely dependent on others for every aspect of his life.
Mr Nicklinson suffered a catastrophic stroke in 2005 while on a business trip to Athens which left him paralysed below the neck and unable to speak.
He communicates by blinking or limited head movement and sums up his existence as "dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable".
Before the stroke Mr Nicklinson was a "very active and outgoing man".
He describes having no "privacy or dignity left" and says that what he objects to is having his right to choose taken away from him.
Mr Nicklinson cannot be present for the hearing, but speaking before the proceedings began, his wife Jane, 56, said: "We are just really happy that the time has come for Tony to get heard in court and we're just hoping for a good outcome."
She acknowledged: "Whatever happens, there's no happy endings in this one."
The Nicklinsons' daughter Lauren, 24, said: "I think for us, because we knew the person that dad was before this, it makes it easier to accept. I know that if me and (sister) Beth were in that position, he'd be fighting for us the same way that we are fighting for him."
Asked about the landmark nature of the outcome of the case, Miss Nicklinson said: "For us, it's about dad. We appreciate we'll have impacts on other people - hopefully, we're going to give other people in dad's situation their similar rights as well - but for us three, it's about dad."
Her sister Beth, 23, said: "We always knew he'd feel like this so it didn't come as a shock that this is the point that it's come to."
Mr Bowen told the court: "The claimant (Mr Nicklinson), who has made a voluntary, clear, settled and informed wish to end his own life with dignity, is too disabled to do so.
"The current law of assisted suicide and euthanasia operate to prevent him from adopting the only means by which he could practically end his life, namely with medical assistance.
"He is condemned to an existence he does not wish to live in a state of suffering and indignity that no-one should be forced to endure.
"This state of affairs constitutes a serious interference with his common law and Convention rights of autonomy and dignity."
The law was "anomalous and discriminatory", failing to protect the "very people it is intended to protect".
He said: "It has not stopped the widespread practice of euthanasia but has forced it underground, where it is unregulated."
The QC added: "There are in the region of 3,000 cases of euthanasia in this country every year which are not reported."
The law "encourages those with the means and the ability" to go abroad to Switzerland "where they meet their end earlier than they might otherwise wish".
For those without the means it "offers Hobson's choice of an amateur, DIY suicide or continued suffering".
Mr Bowen told the court: "Public support for a change in the law is overwhelming."
Mr Nicklinson is seeking two declarations from the court.
One is that in the circumstances of his case - and where an order has been sought from the court in advance - "the common law defence of necessity would be available to a doctor who, acting out of his professional and human duty, assisted him to die".
The other is that the current law of assisted suicide and euthanasia is incompatible with his Article 8 rights of autonomy and dignity.
Verity K Hambrook
Clare Frances Davies