British court: Right-to-die case can proceed
LONDON (AP) - In a case that challenges Britain’s definition of murder, a severely disabled man who says his life has no “privacy or dignity” will be granted a hearing on his request that a doctor be allowed to give him a lethal injection.
Tony Nicklinson suffered a paralyzing stroke in 2005 that left him unable to speak or move below his neck. The former rugby player and corporate manager requires constant care and communicates largely by blinking, although his mind has remained unaffected.
In January, Nicklinson asked the High Court to declare that any doctor who kills him with his consent will not be charged with murder. On Monday, a judge said the request may proceed, making it the first right-to-die case of its kind to get a hearing in a British court.
The 57-year-old’s condition is stable, though Nicklinson has refused since 2007 to take any life-prolonging drugs recommended by doctors, including heart medication or blood thinners.
The ministry of justice argued that granting Nicklinson’s request would require changing the law on murder and that such changes must be made by Parliament. The government had applied to have the case dismissed.
Nicklinson argued that British law hindered 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.
“The decision to go to a hearing is quite a small step, but what’s tremendously significant is what Tony Nicklinson is asking for,” said Emily Jackson, a law professor at the London School of Economics. “Normally, it would be for Parliament to make any change to the law on murder, so it would be a very, very big deal for the court to make a change like this.”
“A life like this is unbearable for him,” she said. “We know there are doctors out there that would do this if it is made legal.”
A recent British commission headed by a former justice secretary concluded there was a strong case for allowing assisted suicide under strict criteria. The commission was set up and funded by advocates who want the current law changed.
Assisted suicide is usually for people who have at least some capacity to kill themselves, perhaps by drinking a lethal beverage or taking a fatal dose of drugs. The report did not support euthanasia, which is when a doctor actively kills a patient.
In 2009, the British government’s top prosecutor said people who helped terminally ill relatives and friends die were unlikely to be charged if they acted out of compassion.