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Thursday, 22 November 2018

Terminally ill man takes fight over assisted dying to UK's highest court

Written by Sian Harrison

A terminally ill motor neurone disease sufferer who wants to die a "peaceful and dignified death" will go to the UK's highest court in a bid to change the law on assisted dying.

Noel Conway (pictured) vowed to continue his legal fight after losing a Court of Appeal challenge in June and a panel of three justices will decide on Thursday whether he can appeal to the Supreme Court.

The 68-year-old retired lecturer from Shrewsbury says that being forced to choose between "unacceptable options" to end his life is "barbaric".

He wants help to die - which the law prevents - when he has less than six months left to live, still has the mental capacity to make the decision and has made a "voluntary, clear, settled and informed" decision.

During a hearing in May he proposed that he could only receive assistance to die if a High Court judge determined that he met all three of those criteria.

Challenging an earlier High Court rejection of his case, his lawyers argued the "blanket ban" on assisted dying was an unjustified interference with his human rights.

But his appeal was rejected by three senior judges.

Announcing the decision, Master of the Rolls Sir Terence Etherton said the court concluded it is not as well placed as Parliament to determine the "necessity and proportionality of a blanket ban".

In a statement after the ruling, he said: "I am naturally disappointed by today's judgment, though it was not unexpected.

"I fully intend to appeal it with the support of my legal team."

He added: "I will keep fighting for myself and all terminally ill people who want the right to die peacefully, with dignity and on our own terms.

"I want to thank my family, friends and members of the public who have shown such overwhelming support and who continue to spur me on in this fight."

He cites his current options as to "effectively suffocate" by choosing to remove his ventilator or spend thousands travelling to Switzerland to end his life and have his family risk prosecution.

Lady Hale, Lord Reed and Lord Kerr will decide whether Mr Conway should be given permission for an appeal to the Supreme Court.

A statement on the court's website said it is "aware of the urgency of the matter".

If Mr Conway is granted permission, a date will be set for a full hearing, but if he is refused an appeal his case will come to an end.

Mr Conway, who is supported by the campaign group Dignity in Dying, is too unwell to travel to London for the Supreme Court hearing.

He is now dependent on a ventilator for up to 23 hours a day and only has movement in his right hand, head and neck.


Noel Conway's case is the latest on the issue of assisted dying to be considered by the courts.

Diane Pretty, Debbie Purdy and Tony Nicklinson all brought legal action for the right to end their lives with help.

Diane Pretty

Diane Pretty was terminally ill with motor neurone disease (MND) and wanted an assurance that her husband Brian would not be prosecuted if he helped her to die.

The mother of two took her case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg after it was rejected by British judges, but the court ruled against her in 2002.

Judges said the fact that assisting a suicide was a crime in England did not breach Mrs Pretty's human rights.

The 43-year-old from Luton, Bedfordshire, died in a hospice two weeks after the court's ruling.

Debbie Purdy

Debbie Purdy was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1995 and won a court battle to clarify the law on assisted suicide.

Ms Purdy, from Bradford, West Yorkshire, sought assurance over whether her husband Omar Puente would be prosecuted if he helped her travel to Dignitas to end her life.

In 2009 the House of Lords ruled the law was not clear enough about when people would be prosecuted for assisting suicide and ordered the director of public prosecutions (DPP) to publish guidelines on what would make a prosecution more or less likely.

Ms Purdy was not able to go through with her plan to travel to a Swiss assisted-suicide clinic due to her health deteriorating, and she died in a hospice in December 2014, aged 51.

Tony Nicklinson

Tony Nicklinson suffered locked-in syndrome after having a catastrophic stroke while on a business trip to Athens in 2005.

The 58-year-old, from Melksham, Wiltshire, died days after his right-to-die case was rejected by the High Court in 2012, with three judges ruling the current law did not breach his human rights.

His fight was taken up by his widow Jane Nicklinson and, with paralysed former builder Paul Lamb, she went to the Supreme Court and then to the European Court of Human Rights.

The case was rejected in both courts but, in the Supreme Court's ruling, Lady Hale - now president of the court - expressed the view that the protection of vulnerable people was not sufficient to justify a "universal ban" on assisted suicide.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Annabel Moeller / Dignity in Dying / PA Wire.