UK

Assisted Dying Activists, Including Tony Nicklinson Widow Jane, Fight For Right To Die In Court Of Appeal

13/05/2013 12:05 BST

Right-to-die campaigners, spurred by fight of locked-in syndrome sufferer Tony Nicklinson, are to bring the issue yet again to the courts, as his widow vows to continue the battle "as part of Tony's legacy.

Mr Nicklinson died aged 58, a week after losing his High Court bid to end his life, with the help of a doctor. He had been refusing food and had contracted pneumonia.

Joining Jane Nicklinson at the Court of Appeal on Monday is Paul Lamb, immobilised and in significant pain after a road accident and seeking the right to an assisted death and a claimant known as ‘Martin’, who also suffers from locked-in syndrome, unable to speak or move. He described his life as "undignified, distressing and intolerable" after suffering a massive stroke in 2008.

tony nicklinson

Locked-in syndrome sufferer Tony Nicklinson sought an assisted death ruling in the courts, before he died last year

Judges at the Court of Appeal stressed on Monday they were "acutely aware of the desperate situation in which the appellants find themselves, and we are very sympathetic."

But Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge stressed that "we cannot decide this case as a matter of personal sympathy" but on the "basis of principles of law".

Mrs Nicklinson said, prior to the case: "We are really excited that we are back in court and hopeful that we will win the appeal and have the case heard again.

"We are hoping that the judges will see that we didn't get a fair hearing last time and that we should get the case heard again. We feel that our case wasn't properly heard."

Lamb, a father-of-two, has described wanting to die by lethal injection, surrounded by his family. "I hope that this is the next step towards the ultimate goal of changing this cruel law, which keeps people like me alive when I want to have a dignified death," he said.

"To be given this chance of being involved in the case makes me very proud. I have always been an extremely strong character and when I believe in something, I can take on the world. So, for the sake of everyone in this country who deserves the right to have a dignified death, I hope that we can make this happen."

Lamb said on Monday that he hoped the judges would listen but added that he was "not confident because I've seen the legal system. Its already failed people. You can never be confident. I feel the legal system doesn't listen and I think they should listen more."

"They will listen today is what I'm hoping. I'm confident in my solicitor and barrister. I think the public will sympathise. Definitely."

Nicklinson had argued before his death that there should be a defence of necessity available to a doctor assisting him to die, and that the law was incompatible with his right to respect for private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which he argued includes a right to autonomy and self determination at the end of life.

Law firm Bindmans said Mrs Nicklinson has taken over the Article 8 claims in her own right and as the administrator of the estate of her late husband

Leigh Day, the solicitors representing 48-year-old Martin, said current Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) guidance makes it clear that friends or family members would be unlikely to be prosecuted.

"However, Martin's wife does not wish to be actively involved in the steps necessary to bring about his death.

"She understands why Martin may want to end his life but she does not want to be the person who make the arrangements to bring it about. As she says this would leave her with too many painful memories; she does not want to feel responsible for his death.

"Martin therefore needs the assistance of a professional, most likely a doctor, nurse or a carer, to help him to die. Currently the DPP policy does not make it clear that such people are unlikely to be prosecuted.

"Martin is therefore unable to find anyone to take him to Dignitas. He hopes that the legal action will force the DPP to change his policy so that the position is clear for health professionals, to allow them to assist him to end his life."

The British Humanist Association has submitted evidence in support of assisted dying, prepared by philosophers including Simon Blackburn, A C Grayling, John Harris, and Richard Norman.

Andrew Copson, BHA Chief Executive, said in a statement: "The brave individuals bringing these cases are overcoming great personal tragedies in order to advance justice and bring about a more humane society and we are proud to be parties to their cases in support of them.

"When a mentally competent adult is suffering incurably, is permanently incapacitated, and has made a clear and informed decision to end their life but is unable to do so independently, simple compassion calls out to us to give assistance – it’s the right thing to do. That’s what the overwhelming majority of the British public believe, and we think the law should reflect that."

The court cases coincide with Dying Matters Awareness Week, whose organisers have released a study revealing only 5% of people had considered how they would want to be cared for if they couldn’t make decisions themselves and whether for example they would want to be resuscitated.