Man with locked-in syndrome wins right to hearing for assisted suicide


A LOCKED-IN syndrome sufferer who wants have a doctor lawfully end his life won the right yesterday to have his case decided by the High Court in London.

Tony Nicklinson (57) and his family, who live in Wiltshire, welcomed the decision of a judge in London, which means his action can proceed. Mr Nicklinson, who sums up his life as “dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable”, will now have his case heard fully later this year.

In the proceedings Mr Nicklinson, who suffered a stroke in 2005 while on a business trip to Athens, is asking the High Court to grant declarations that a doctor could intervene to end his “indignity”, with his consent and with him making the decision with full mental capacity, and have a “common law defence of necessity” against any murder charge.

Yesterday’s ruling by Mr Justice Charles followed an application by the ministry of justice for the case to be “struck out”, arguing that what Mr Nicklinson wants the courts to do should be a matter for parliament.

But the judge allowed most of Mr Nicklinson’s action to proceed, ruling he had an “arguable” case to go before a full court.

After the ruling Mr Nicklinson’s wife Jane read out a statement from her husband. It said: “I’m delighted that the issues surrounding assisted dying are to be aired in court. Politicians and others can hardly complain with the courts providing the forum for debate if the politicians continue to ignore one of the most important topics facing our society today.”

Outside court, Mr Nicklinson’s solicitor Saimo Chahal welcomed the decision. She said information would now be obtained on “the practical steps” that would have to be taken to end Mr Nicklinson’s life and put before the court.

The judge gave Mr Nicklinson the go-ahead to take his case further in judicial review proceedings in relation to two of three declarations sought. He said the underlying issues in the case “raise questions that have great social, ethical and religious significance, and they are questions on which widely differing beliefs and views are held, often strongly”.

The circumstances in which Mr Nicklinson and his family find themselves were ones which “evoke deepest sympathy”. Mr Nicklinson will be seeking a declaration that “it would not be unlawful on the grounds of necessity for Mr Nicklinson’s GP, or another doctor, to terminate or assist the termination of Mr Nicklinson’s life”.

The judge also gave the green light in relation to a second declaration sought by Mr Nicklinson over his right to respect for private life under Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention.

He said Mr Nicklinson accepted “what he is seeking to do is to change the existing understanding of the common law”.

Before the stroke Mr Nicklinson, who has two grown-up daughters, was a “very active and outgoing man”. He was left paralysed below the neck and unable to speak and now communicates by blinking or limited head movement.

Mr Nicklinson said what he objects to is having his right to choose taken away from him.

He said: “I have locked-in syndrome and I can expect no cure or improvement in my condition as my muscles and joints seize up through lack of use. Indeed, I can expect to dribble my way into old age. If I am lucky I will acquire a life-threatening illness such as cancer so that I can refuse treatment and say no to those who would keep me alive against my will.

“By all means protect the vulnerable; by vulnerable I mean those who cannot make decisions for themselves. Just don’t include me. I am not vulnerable. I don’t need help or protection from death or those who would help me.

“If the legal consequences were not so huge, ie life imprisonment, perhaps I could get someone to help me. As things stand, I can’t get help. I am asking for my right to choose when and how to die to be respected.”