UK court rules against paralyzed man in right-to-die case

[JURIST] The High Court of England and Wales on Thursday denied [judgment, PDF] the plea of a paralyzed man challenging the legitimacy of the Suicide Act 1961 and other laws barring his ability to commit suicide. Tony Nicklinson, 58, along with a 47-year-old man known only as Martin, brought the right-to-die case seeking immunity for a doctor who would give Nicklinson a fatal dose of painkillers [Telegraph report] to end his life. Both men are suffering from locked-in syndrome, Nicklinson having become almost completely paralyzed and unable to speak after suffering a stroke seven years ago. In March the court agreed to let the case proceed, Nicklinson having argued that that British law hinders his rights [JURIST report] to private and family life as established in the European Convention on Human Rights [text] because his decision is one of personal autonomy and dignity. The court ultimately declined to change the current state of the law:

Tony's and Martin's circumstances are deeply moving. Their desire to have control over the ending of their lives demands the most careful and sympathetic consideration, but there are also other important issues to consider. ... It is not for the court to decide whether the law about assisted dying should be changed and, if so, what safeguards should be put in place. Under our system of government these are matters for Parliament to decide, representing society as a whole, after Parliamentary scrutiny, and not for the court on the facts of an individual case or cases.
Nicklinson, a father of two, stated that he would appeal the decision, and that in the end he is prepared to starve himself to death if necessary.

The right to die [JURIST news archive] has been a contentious issue around the world. The only European countries that allow euthanasia are Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland. In 2011 the Supreme Court of India ruled passive euthanasia was permitted [JURIST report] under certain circumstances, but rejected a petition for a mercy killing. In 2010 a German court ruled that removing a patient from life support is not a criminal offense [JURIST report] if the patient had previously given consent. In 2009 the Italian president refused to sign an Italian government decree [JURIST report] that would stop the euthanasia of comatose women because it would violate the separation of power overturning a previous court ruling. In 2006 a proposed bill that would legalize the option of assisted suicide in the UK was set aside by the House of Lords following opposition from the public and two physician groups [JURIST reports]. Also in 2006 the US Supreme Court upheld Oregon's Death with Dignity Act [JURIST report], the only American state law that allows physician assisted suicide.

 

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