Saturday, August 18, 2012

Misery - or life worth living?

Surely there could have been no other decision in the Nicklinson case in the High Court this week than the one that was handed down.

Tony Nicklinson, a 58-year-old from Wiltshire, has locked-in syndrome after a severe stroke. His mind is in perfect working order, but he can move only his head and his eyes. He is fed through a tube, and communicates through a computer which reads head and eye movements.

He says his life is "dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable." He wants permission for a doctor to end his life.

Some have said that his case is a perfect example of the need for a change in the law on assisted suicide - but assisted suicide is not the question here. Mr Nicklinson is unable to commit suicide, even with help. Granting permission for his death would have the effect of legalising euthanasia. As the law stands, the one ending his life would technically be open to a charge of murder.

While expressing sympathy for him in his condition, Lord Justice Toulson said in the High Court: "To do as Tony wants, the court would be making a major change in the law. 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. Under our system of government these are matters for Parliament to decide."

Mr Nicklinson intends to appeal.

Commenting on  the case, bioethicist Michael Cook points out that the majority of people with locked-in syndrome want to live. He recalled Frenchwoman Maryannick Pavageau, who had locked-in syndrome and was awarded the Legion d'Honneur for her battle against euthanasia.

She denied her life was miserable.

"All life is worth living," she said. "It can be beautiful, regardless of the state we are in. And change is always possible. That is the message of hope that I wish to convey. I am firmly against euthanasia because it is not physical suffering that guides the desire to die but a moment of discouragement, feeling like a burden. . . All those who ask to die are mostly looking for love."