British man with motor neurone disease loses fight for assisted suicide in UK court


A British court has once again supported a ban on assisted suicide. Noel Conway (see here for previous BioEdge stories), a 67-year-old with motor neurone disease, had appealed to the court to allow him to die through assisted suicide when his health deteriorated.

His legal argument was that the Suicide Act 1961, which sets out the law on assisted dying, is incompatible with Article Eight of the European Convention on Human Rights. His lawyers argued that the law should be changed to permit others to assist him to commit suicide without risking prosecution.

However, after reviewing most of the recent developments in the assisted dying debate over the past four decades, three justices of the High Court rejected his claim.  

Mr Conway was bitterly disappointed. “I am told the only option I currently have is to effectively suffocate to death by choosing to remove my ventilator, which I am now dependent on to breathe for up to 22 hours a day,” he said. “There is no way of knowing how long it would take me to die if I did this, or whether my suffering could be fully relieved. To me, this is not choice – this is cruelty.”

He believes that he will experience “unbearable suffering” and a “traumatic, drawn-out death” as a result of the judgment.

Andrew Copson, of Humanists UK, which has supported Mr Conway’s legal challenge commented:

“We are hugely disappointed at the decision of the high court today. It is simply wrong that those who are of sound mind but are terminally ill or incurably suffering are denied the choice and dignity to die at a time of their choosing.”

But Dr Peter Saunders, of the lobby group Care Not Killing, applauded the judgement.

“The safest law is the one we currently have, which gives a blanket prohibition on all assisted suicide and euthanasia. This deters exploitation and abuse through the penalties that it holds in reserve but, at the same time, gives some discretion to prosecutors and judges to temper justice with mercy in hard cases.”

“A change in the law is opposed by every major disability rights organisation and doctors’ group, including the BMA, Royal College of GPs and the Association for Palliative Medicine. These groups have looked at this issue on numerous occasions in detail and concluded that there is no safe system of assisted suicide and euthanasia anywhere in the world.”




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