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Locked-in Syndrome Sufferer Tony Nicklinson Wins High Court Ruling to Proceed with ‘right to Die’ Case

Posted on the 13 March 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
Locked-in syndrome sufferer Tony Nicklinson wins High Court ruling to proceed with ‘right to die’ case

Right to die: Justice or dangerous precedent? Photo credit: James Cridland,

A British man has been given the go-ahead to continue his ‘right-to-die’ legal case by the High Court, in what many commentators say is a serious challenge to laws on euthanasia and murder. Tony Nicklinson, 58, has ‘locked-in syndrome’ following a stroke in 2005, which left him with total physical paralysis but full mental capacity. Nicklinson, who described his life as “dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable” to the court using blinks to spell out the letters, is seeking a legal declaration that any doctor who helped him end his life would not be prosecuted.

Crossing the line. At the moment, the law distinguishes between a doctor deciding not to continue a treatment that would prolong life and actively ending a life by administering drugs, pointed out Clive Coleman at the BBC. “Mr Nicklinson’s case is not one of assisted suicide … His paralysis is so severe that he cannot be assisted in taking his own life, for instance by swallowing lethal drugs. He would have to be killed by someone else,” wrote Coleman. Essentially, this would pave the way for “voluntary active euthanasia” in the UK, Coleman said.

”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,” said Tony Nicklinson in The Independent.

A way out. “I have thought about ending his life myself, and I’ve been asked about it many times, but I just don’t have the guts. And he wouldn’t let me because I’d be risking life in prison,” wrote Jane Nicklinson, Tony’s Nicklinson’s wife, in The Guardian. According to Nicklinson, her husband’s once-active life has been reduced to mere “existing,” and that should he ultimately win his case, that doesn’t mean he would necessarily want to die immediately: “He says you never know, maybe even knowing that he does have a way out will be enough for him to carry on. He says it’s agony for him knowing that he has no way out.”

Setting a precedent. Julia Manning wrote in The Daily Mail that while she has considerable sympathy for Nicklinson and his family, she was concerned that should he win the ‘right-to-die’ case, this would set a dangerous precedent. “This is one of those hard cases which if acted upon would leave us with not just a bad law, but a vulnerable population. Any severely disabled person would be at risk of someone declaring that they had wanted to die, especially those who find it difficult to communicate,” Manning explained.

Parliament must be involved. “Changing the law relating to murder without the authority of Parliament is inconceivable,” said a Telegraph editorial. According to the editorial, Nicklinson’s case is less about the right to die and more ‘the right to be killed” – which means altering the law on murder: “Momentous moral issues such as this must always be decided by Parliament, not the judiciary.”

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