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Melksham right-to-die campaigner's family take fight to Supreme Court
9:13am Sunday 15th December 2013 in Melksham
Locked-in syndrome sufferer Tony Nicklinson's widow and a paralysed road
accident victim take their "right-to-die" battle for a change in the law
to the UK's highest court tomorrow.
Nine Supreme Court justices in London will hear the latest round otheir fight over the legal ban on voluntary euthanasia.
They want to give people who are physically unable to end their own
lives the choice of a ''dignified and humane'' death.
The action has been brought by Jane Nicklinson, whose husband died in
August 2012 after losing a High Court battle to end his life with a
doctor's help, and Paul Lamb, who won the right to join the litigation
to continue the case started by Mr Nicklinson.
They pledged not to give up after suffering a defeat at the Court of
Appeal in July this year.
Appeal judges dismissed the Nicklinson and Lamb challenges over the
legal ban on voluntary euthanasia, but in a majority ruling allowed an
appeal by a locked-in syndrome sufferer known as ''Martin'', who had
sought clarification of Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) guidance
relating to the position of health professionals in assisted suicide
After the July ruling, Mrs Nicklinson said: "We will carry on with the
case for as long as we can so that others who find themselves in a
position similar to Tony don't have to suffer as he did. Nobody deserves
Former builder and father-of-two Mr Lamb, who lives in the Bramley area
of Leeds, wants a doctor to help him die in a dignified way.
Mr Lamb is immobile except for limited movement in his right hand and
has been in significant pain since his accident in 1990. He said after
the Court of Appeal decision: "No retreat, no surrender, is my motto
with all of this.''
In the ruling, the then Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, sitting with
Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson and Lord Justice Elias, said the law
''relating to assisting suicide cannot be changed by judicial
Parliament ''represents the conscience of the nation'' in life and death
issues, he said, adding: ''Judges, however eminent, do not; our
responsibility is to discover the relevant legal principles, and apply
the law as we find it.''
It was submitted on Mr Lamb's behalf that ''the time has now come when
the common law should provide a defence to murder where that takes the
form of euthanasia'', at least in the circumstances he now faces and Mr
Nicklinson had faced.
During the appeal hearing Paul Bowen QC, for Mrs Nicklinson and Mr Lamb,
said that for those who have ''made a competent choice to end their
lives, but who cannot physically act upon that choice without medical
assistance, such as Tony Nicklinson before he died and Paul Lamb, the
law of murder and assisted suicide constitute, for practical purposes,
an insurmountable obstacle''.
Father-of-two Mr Nicklinson, 58, died at home in Melksham, Wiltshire, a
week after he lost his High Court action.
Mr Nicklinson, who was paralysed by a stroke while on a business trip to
Athens in 2005, had refused food and contracted pneumonia after he was
''devastated'' by the decision of Lord Justice Toulson, Mr Justice Royce
and Mrs Justice Macur.
The complaint made by 49-year-old Martin, who cannot be named for legal
reasons, was that the policy of the DPP ''fails to provide sufficient
clarity'' as to the DPP's prosecution policy with respect to those
persons who fell into the category of helpers who have no close or
emotional connection with the victim - such as medical doctors and other
Law firm Leigh Day said that DPP guidance makes clear that friends or
family members would be unlikely to be prosecuted - but Martin's wife
does not wish to be actively involved in the steps necessary to bring
about his death and he has no other friends or family willing to assist.
Martin, who suffered a massive stroke in August 2008, is unable to speak
and virtually unable to move. He describes his life as ''undignified,
distressing and intolerable'', and needs the assistance of a
professional, most likely a doctor, nurse or a carer, to help him to
After the Court of Appeal judgment he said it meant he was "one step
closer to being able to decide how and when I end my life".
Martin can end his own life but only with the assistance of a third
party. Mr Lamb is ''so disabled that he cannot even commit suicide with
assistance'', requiring a third party to terminate his life - the same
position Mr Nicklinson was in.
The then Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC said after the
appeal court ruling: ''While I respect the carefully considered judgment
of the Court of Appeal, I think it would be sensible for the CPS, if
possible, to have the benefit of the views of the Supreme Court before
any amendments are made to the DPP's guidelines in this important and
sensitive area of the law."
In the Nicklinson and Lamb cases before the Supreme Court, the issue is
whether the prohibition on assisted suicide in the Suicide Act 1961 is
incompatible with their Article 8 right to respect for private and
If the answer is yes, they argue that in order to comply with their
Article 8 rights, the Suicide Act should be read as including a "defence
of necessity" so that it would not be unlawful for a doctor to assist,
or to have assisted, in the suicide of Mr Lamb and Mr Nicklinson where
they had made a "voluntary, clear, settled and informed wish" to end
their lives, but were unable to do so without medical assistance.
If no such defence is available they seek a declaration that the
relevant section of the Suicide Act is incompatible with their Article 8
rights in so far as it prohibits assisted suicide in their
The Supreme Court will also deal with the DPP's appeal against the Court
of Appeal's ruling in Martin's favour.
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