British court: Right-to-die case can proceed

By MARIA CHENG , AP Medical Writer
In this family photo released in Jan. 2012 by Tony and Jane Nicklinson, former corporate manager, rugby player, skydiving sports enthusiast Tony Nicklinson sits at his home in Wiltshire, England, where following a stroke he suffers from locked-in syndrome. A British judge is due to make a preliminary ruling on a paralyzed man's wish that a doctor be allowed to end his life. The ruling expected Monday March 12, 2012 is on the government's bid to throw out the case.(AP Photo/Tony and Jane Nicklinson)

(AP) -- In a case that challenges Britain's definition of murder, a severely disabled man who says his life has no "privacy or dignity" will be granted a hearing on his request that a doctor be allowed to give him a lethal injection.

Tony Nicklinson suffered a paralyzing in 2005 that left him unable to speak or move below his neck. The former and corporate manager requires constant care and communicates largely by blinking, although his mind has remained unaffected.

"I am fed up with my life and don't want to spend the next 20 years or so like this," Nicklinson said in a statement.

In January, Nicklinson asked the High Court to declare that any doctor who kills him with his consent will not be charged with murder. On Monday, a judge said the request may proceed, making it the first right-to-die case of its kind to get a hearing in a British court.

The 57-year-old's condition is stable, though Nicklinson has refused since 2007 to take any life-prolonging drugs recommended by , including heart medication or .

The ministry of justice argued that granting Nicklinson's request would require changing the law on murder and that such changes must be made by Parliament. The government had applied to have the case dismissed.

In his ruling, Justice William Charles said Nicklinson was "now inviting the court to cross the Rubicon" and that his case had "an arguable base."

Nicklinson argued that British law hindered his right to "private and family life" - guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights - on the grounds that being able to choose how to die is a matter of .

"The decision to go to a hearing is quite a small step, but what's tremendously significant is what Tony Nicklinson is asking for," said Emily Jackson, a law professor at the London School of Economics. "Normally, it would be for to make any change to the law on murder, so it would be a very, very big deal for the court to make a change like this."

Nicklinson's wife, Jane, says the only way to end her husband's suffering is for him to die.

"A life like this is unbearable for him," she said. "We know there are doctors out there that would do this if it is made legal."

A recent British commission headed by a former justice secretary concluded there was a strong case for allowing assisted suicide under strict criteria. The commission was set up and funded by advocates who want the current law changed.

Assisted suicide is usually for people who have at least some capacity to kill themselves, perhaps by drinking a lethal beverage or taking a fatal dose of drugs. The report did not support euthanasia, which is when a doctor actively kills a patient.

The commission recommended assisted suicide only be allowed for terminally ill people, which would exclude Nicklinson.

In 2009, the British government's top prosecutor said people who helped terminally ill relatives and friends die were unlikely to be charged if they acted out of compassion.

In Europe, euthanasia is allowed in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland.

Penney Lewis, a at King's College London, said the U.K. had become more receptive to allowing in recent years but not euthanasia.

"Granting Nicklinson a hearing does not mean euthanasia will be allowed, but it is a big step," she said.

Legalizing euthanasia in the Netherlands began in a similar fashion, with doctors in court cases employing arguments much like those of Nicklinson's legal team, Lewis said.

Part of Nicklinson's argument depends on the "defence of necessity," meaning that in exceptional circumstances, a person must be allowed to break the law. In the Netherlands, doctors on trial for killing their patients argued they had no choice when confronted with dying patients begging for relief.

In 2010, Kay Gilderdale was found not guilty of the attempted murder of her severely disabled daughter. Gilderdale admitted she had tried to kill her daughter, who had repeatedly asked to die.

Nicklinson's hearing could happen as early as this summer. It is expected to take at least five days.

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Dutch group launch mobile mercy killing teams

Feb 29, 2012

Six specialised teams, each with a doctor, will criss-cross the Netherlands as of Thursday to carry out euthanasia on patients at home whose own doctors refused to do so, a pro-mercy killing group said.

Assisted suicide _ Canada revisits an old debate

Dec 05, 2011

(AP) -- Confined to a wheelchair, in constant pain and unable to bathe without help, a 63-year-old grandmother has forced the issue of assisted suicide into Canadian courts for the third time in two decades.

Montana 3rd state to allow doctor-assisted suicide

Jan 01, 2010

(AP) -- The Montana Supreme Court said Thursday that nothing in state law prevents patients from seeking physician-assisted suicide, making Montana the third state that will allow the procedure.

Recommended for you

Doctor behind 'free radical' aging theory dies

Nov 25, 2014

Dr. Denham Harman, a renowned scientist who developed the most widely accepted theory on aging that's now used to study cancer, Alzheimer's disease and other illnesses, has died in Nebraska at age 98.

Mexican boy who had massive tumor recovering

Nov 25, 2014

An 11-year-old Mexican boy who had pieces of a massive tumor removed and who drew international attention after U.S. officials helped him get treatment in the southwestern U.S. state of New Mexico is still recovering after ...

New medical device to make the mines safer

Nov 21, 2014

Dehydration can be a serious health issue for Australia's mining industry, but a new product to be developed with input from Flinders University's Medical Device Partnering Program (MDPP) is set to more effectively ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.