- Associated Press - Monday, January 23, 2012

LONDON (AP) - Former rugby player Tony Nicklinson had a high-flying job as a corporate manager in Dubai, where he went skydiving and bridge-climbing in his free time.

Seven years ago, he suffered a paralyzing stroke. Today he can only move his head, cannot speak and needs constant care.

And he wants to die.

To try to ensure that whoever ends his life won’t be jailed, the 57-year-old Nicklinson recently asked Britain’s High Court to declare that any doctor who gives him a lethal injection with his consent won’t be charged with murder. This week, the court will hold its first hearing on the case.

“Most people who want to die, who are physically able to do so, can lawfully commit suicide,” said Nicklinson’s lawyer, Saimo Chahal.

But that’s not the case for Nicklinson, who has “locked-in syndrome” _ a condition in which a person’s body is paralyzed but mind intact.

Under U.K. law, anyone who helps Nicklinson die could be charged with murder, even if they are carrying out his wishes. A murder charge has a mandatory life sentence, regardless of the motive or circumstances.

No one suspected of aiding a loved one’s suicide has been charged with such a crime in Britain in recent years. But Nicklinson doesn’t want to take any chances. Instead he wants to change the legal definition of murder to exclude euthanasia, arguably a long shot.

Emily Jackson, a medical law expert at London’s School of Economics, said Nicklinson may have a plausible case. “He is making a very interesting argument,” she said.

Euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands but requires a long-term relationship between doctors and patients, a rule that excludes most foreigners. Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, including for foreigners, but Nicklinson does not want to go there to die.

Nicklinson argues that British law hinders his right to “private and family life” _ guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights _ on the grounds that being able to choose how to die is a matter of personal autonomy.

“He argues that it’s unfair on him and that a humane legal system would enable somebody in his circumstances, with considerable safeguards, to get help from a doctor to exercise a right, which he has in theory, but is deprived of in practice,” Chahal said.

The Ministry of Justice has applied to dismiss Nicklinson’s suit since it could involve changing the law _ which must be done by Parliament, not the High Court.

Nicklinson communicates mostly by using a computer that detects his blinking. In a statement, he described his life as “dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable.”

He has refused since 2007 to take any life-prolonging drugs recommended by doctors, including heart drugs or blood thinners. He only takes medicines to make himself more comfortable, such as those to reduce muscle spasms. His wife, Jane, a trained nurse, said he could be at risk of another stroke or a heart attack.

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