ShareThis Page
U.S./World

Britain's High Court won't allow death assist

| Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012, 7:00 p.m.

LONDON — Britain's High Court on Thursday rejected an attempt by a man who has locked-in syndrome to overturn the country's euthanasia law by refusing to legally allow doctors to end his life.

Tony Nicklinson had a stroke in 2005 that left him unable to speak or move below his neck. He requires constant care and communicates mostly by blinking, although his mind has remained unaffected and his condition is not terminal.

In January, the 58-year-old asked the High Court to declare that any doctor who kills him with his consent will not be charged with murder.

The High Court ruled that challenges from Nicklinson and another man named only as Martin to allow others to help them die without being prosecuted were a matter for Parliament to decide.

Nicklinson said he was “devastated and heartbroken” and planned to appeal the decision.

“I am saddened that the law wants to condemn me to a life of increasing indignity and misery,” he said.

Martin, 47, also has locked-in syndrome and asked for the court to allow professionals to help him die either by withholding food and water or by helping him go to a clinic in Switzerland to die.

Locked-in syndrome is a rare neurological disorder in which patients are completely paralyzed and able only to blink. Patients are conscious and don't have any intellectual problems, but they are unable to speak or move.

The judges wrote that they were both “tragic cases,” but said to allow euthanasia as a possible defense to murder “would usurp the proper role of Parliament.” Nicklinson had argued that British law violated his right to “private and family life” as 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 has previously described his life as “a living nightmare.” Legal experts were not surprised by the ruling.

“This is a really slippery case,” said Richard Huxtable, deputy director of the Ethics in Medicine department at Bristol University. “Although the courts have been willing to look at guidance around assisted suicide, this is about as far as they have been willing to go.

“The feeling seems to be that only Parliament could give adequate thought to what sort of law should be in place and the safeguards required.”

In Europe, only Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands allow euthanasia. Switzerland allows assisted suicide and is the only country that helps foreigners die.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me