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Locked-In Syndrome Sufferers Lose “Right to Die” Case

Posted on the 17 August 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost

Tony Nicklinson: Right to die case lost Tony Nicklinson: Right to die case lost. Photocredit: Telegraph TV

The background

A high court ruling has led two victims of locked in syndrome to protest that they are being forced to lead undignified lives, reported The Guardian. The ruling said that allowing the men to be aided to end their lives would have far-reaching implications that would be impossible to decide in a court, and the question would have to be answered by Parliament. Locked in syndrome leaves victims totally paralysed, yet entirely aware of what is going on around them. They often communiate via blinking. There is no cure.

One of the men, Tony Nicklinson (58) had tried to end his “dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable life.” He said the ruling meant his pain and suffering would continue; he aims to push the case further. Doctors say he could live another twenty years. The other man, identified only as AM, was also disappointed; Nicklinson in particular was devastated, and wept.  Under current guidelines from the DPP, only relations and close friends motivated by compassion are unlikely to be prosecuted for assisting suicide. Nicklinson has garnered support on Twitter; but the case raises enormous legal and social issues, since what he requires effectively sanctions murder.

“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,” said Lord Justice Toulson, quoted on The Guardian.

The cases are actually different

Jo Cartwright on The Telegraph pointed out that the cases were different. Nicklinson’s wanted a partial defence to the law of murder; the other (AM) wanted clarification on the law of assisted suicide. It’s currently illegal to assist someone elese to die, but acts of indirect assistance to die – such as taking someone abroad – are usually forgiven. AM’s lawyers said that the law on assisted suicide wasn’t clear enough for health professionals; for instance, what if a patient and a doctor discuss not taking treatment? Nicklinson, on the other hand, said that his human rights were violated by the current law. He wants voluntary euthanasia to be brought in.

Profound moral, ethical and social issues

In his judgement, Mr Justice Roye said that the case led to “the most profound ethical, moral, religious and social” issues, and that whilst nobody could fail to be moved by the men’s predicament, it was a sensitive area. Toulson added that since the cases reflected society as a whole, it would have to be decided by Parliament.

A morally abominable, but inevitable, verdict

Polly Toynbee on The Guardian was up in arms. She said the verdict was “morally abominable.” However, she did say that it was “inevitable.” This decision, she said, is important for us all – many of us will be forced to end our days suffering. The current law is “absurd.” And “what hypocrisy for the law to allow suicide tourism, while denying medically assisted death at home where people want to die.” A private member’s bill is due to go to the Lords; but the bishops will no doubt stop it, believing that we are not autonomous beings. They say that changing the law will allow the old to be bumped off – but the law will provide safeguards. “Of all the various harms religions can do, their successful opposition to the right to a peaceful death is one of the most pernicious. Tony Nicklinson asks this: “The next stroke could affect you. Would you be happy to end up like me?”

Sufferers forced to endure

Euthanasia campaigners, on the other hand, said that it left the sufferers with a “terrible choice.” Nicklinson was now “forced to endure his sufferring or take desperate measures to end it.” Andrew Copson of the British Humanism Association said, quoted on the organisation’s website, “‘Mentally competent adults should be able to make decisions about their lives, as long as they do not result in harm to others.  In cases where a patient is suffering incurably, is permanently incapacitated, and has made a clear and informed decision to end their life but is unable to do so independently, the law should allow a doctor to intervene.  We also believe that there is an urgent need for Parliament to legislate on the matter, and to introduce a law which legalises assisted dying while also imposing safeguards to protect the vulnerable.”

Full frontal assault on law of murder

Pro-life campaigners welcomed the ruling. The Guardian quoted Dr Andrew Gergusson of Care Not Killing, who said that the judgment was no surprise, as it was a “full-frontal assault on the law of murder.” Professor John Saunders, chair of the Ethics Committee for the Royal College of Physicians, said the case was about a right to kill not about a right to die, quoted on the BBC.

 Nicklinson tweets

“It’s not the result I was hoping for but it isn’t entirely unexpected. Judges, like politicians, are happiest when they can avoid (contd)

— TonyNicklinson (@TonyNicklinson) August 16, 2012


confronting the real issues and this judgment is not an exception to the rule. I believe the legal team acting on my behalf is (contd)

— TonyNicklinson (@TonyNicklinson) August 16, 2012


prepared to go all the way with this but unfortunately for me it means yet another period of physical discomfort, misery (contd)

— TonyNicklinson (@TonyNicklinson) August 16, 2012

and mental anguish while we find out who controls my life – me or the state”.

— TonyNicklinson (@TonyNicklinson) August 16, 2012

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