Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Supreme Court to rule on 'right to die'

Nine of Britain's most senior judges will meet within the next few days to hear attempts to introduce a ”right to die” under human rights legislation.

A full panel of Supreme Court judges, headed by Lord Neuberger, president of the Supreme Court, will hear the culmination of three separate legal challenges to the current ban on assisted suicide. The three cases have been put into one “super case,” the Telegraph reports, to allow a sweeping judgment on the current state of the law in England and Wales.

Tony Nicklinson, a 58-year-old father of two who was almost completely paralysed after a
 stroke, fought a long and public campaign for a doctor to be allowed to help him end his life. He died  last year after refusing food following the rejection of his case at the High Court. His wife, Mrs Jane Nicklinson, was granted special dispensation to continue the case in his place, taking it to the Court of Appeal and now the Supreme Court.

Paul Lamb (57), a former lorry driver, was left quadriplegic by a car accident 23 years ago.

A man known only as Martin wants to go to the Dignitas suicide clinic in Switzerland, but his wife has made clear that she feels morally unable to help him die. All three cases have been rebuffed by lower courts.

“I am hopeful. We would not be doing this if we didn’t think we had some prospect of success,” said Mrs Nicklinson. “I know it is a huge thing we are asking for, but the fact that we are sitting in front of nine judges shows that they are taking it seriously.” 

Legal papers for Mrs Nicklinson and Mr Lamb refer to "the extraordinary and cruel consequences for them of the current law prohibiting assisted suicide in England and Wales under [the] Suicide Act 1961.”

Papers from Martin’s legal team make his case to end his life in stark terms. “He can move his eyes, and communicates, painfully slowly, by spelling out words on the screen of a special computer that can detect where on the screen his eyes are pointing,” they say. “Martin finds his circumstances undignified, distressing and intolerable. 

"He is not going to recover. He wants to end his life. That decision is settled, consistent, and reached with capacity.”

The three people's lawyers plan to draw on legal arguments developed by Lord Falconer, whose private  bill for assisted suicide will be heard in the House of Lords shortly. They will argue that the 1961 Suicide Act, which makes it a criminal offence to assist someone taking their own life, imposes “extraordinary and cruel” limits on individual freedom.
They will say the ban has already been partially unravelled by official guidelines issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions four years ago, amounting to “de facto decriminalisation” of assisted suicide for those who take loved ones to Switzerland to end their lives.
They will say the current arrangements discriminate against people who are unable to travel abroad, or take other steps themselves to end their lives, because of the severity of their condition.

 Crucially they will argue that a series of previous cases already establish a qualified “right” for people to choose how they die, but one which those with severe disabilities can not use, which amounts to a breach of human rights and renders the ban on assisted suicide “unjustified state interference."

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