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Noel Conway Loses High Court Challenge On Assisted Dying

'To me, this is not choice – this is cruelty.'

05/10/2017 10:46 | Updated 05 October 2017

Terminally-ill Noel Conway has lost his High Court challenge against the law on assisted dying.

Conway, who has motor neurone disease, brought a judicial review seeking a change in the law to allow him, and other terminally ill people, the option of an assisted death in the last six months of life. 

The 67-year-old, who was diagnosed in November 2014, is not expected to live beyond the next 12 months and is seeking permission to enlist medical professionals to bring about a ‘peaceful and dignified’ death. As it stands, the law means that anyone who helped him would be committing a criminal offence.

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Noel Conway must use a ventilator to breathe for up to 22 hours a day 

Conway said: “I am deeply disappointed by today’s judgment and fully intend to appeal it. The experiences of those who are terminally ill need to be heard.

“This decision denies me a real say over how and when I will die. I am told the only option I currently have is to effectively suffocate to death by choosing to remove my ventilator, which I am now dependent on to breathe for up to 22 hours a day.

“There is no way of knowing how long it would take me to die if I did this, or whether my suffering could be fully relieved. To me, this is not choice – this is cruelty.”

The retired college lecturer from Shropshire wants a declaration that the Suicide Act 1961 is incompatible with article 8 of the European convention on human rights, relating to respect for private and family life, and article 14, which protects from discrimination and will appeal the decision. 

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Conway, pictured at the Royal Courts of Justice in London with wife Carol (left), stepson Terry McCusker (centre back) and Sarah Wootton, CEO of Dignity in Dying (right) 

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said: “Noel does not accept the death that the current law forces him to have, and neither do we, which is why Dignity in Dying will support Noel every step of the way to take this case to the appeal courts. How can it be more ethical or safe for Noel to have his ventilation withdrawn under the current law, with no formal safeguards, than for him to request life-ending medication within the multiple safeguards proposed through his case? This is paradoxical.” 

However, director of parliamentary affairs for Christian Action Research and Education (CARE) Dr Dan Boucher, said the charity agreed with the decision. He said: “Our current law exists to protect the vulnerable and weak from being exploited and coerced. It is therefore right that the law today has been upheld. There is no way that any law legalising assisted suicide can be made safe from abuse or negligence. 

“Parliament recently overwhelming voted to reject introducing assisted suicide in Great Britain and we should respect the will of Parliament.” 

Also applauding the outcome, Juliet Marlow of Not Dead Yet UK said: “We are looking forward to the national conversation now focusing on the real issue here, which is lack of adequate social care being provided to people with disabilities.” 

Humanists UK chief executive Andrew Copson said: “We are hugely disappointed at the decision of the High Court today. It is simply wrong that those who are of sound mind but are terminally ill or incurably suffering are denied the choice and dignity to die at a time of their own choosing. 

“We will be supporting Noel in his appeal.. and hope to see today’s judgement overturned.” 

Travelling to a Dignitas clinic in Switzerland is no longer a viable option for Conway and he has refused to risk prosecution by asking his family or doctors for help to end his life at home. 

He added: “As I approach the end of the my life, I face unbearable suffering and the possibility of a traumatic, drawn out death. Knowing I had the option of a safe, peaceful, assisted death at a time of my choosing would allow me to face my final months without the fear and anxiety that currently plagues me and my loved ones. It would allow me to live the rest of my life on my own terms, knowing I was in control rather than at the mercy of a cruel illness.” 

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