Legal challenge on assisted dying law granted by the Court
19 April 2017 by Andrea Godfrey
Noel Conway (67) is a retired college lecturer who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2014. He is currently living at home with his family but is dependent on a ventilator and needs assistance with personal care and mobility. He has less than 12 months to live. He has mental capacity and he wants to utilise the assistance of a medical profession to end his life in “a peaceful and dignified way”
The Suicide Act 1981 provides that a person commits a criminal offence if he or she does an act capable of encouraging or assisting the suicide or attempted suicide of another person and their act was intended to encourage or assist suicide or an attempt at suicide. (“Assisted dying”). It is a criminal offence and punishable with up to 14 years imprisonment for anyone who assists.
Although it is believed he has signed up with the suicide group Dignitas in Switzerland he has stated that he is not prepared to spend the thousands of pounds needed for the assisted dying abroad (his legal fees here are being paid mainly through donations) and he does not want to travel far from home. He also considers that he is no longer well enough to travel
He was originally refused permission to apply for a judicial review to seek a declaration that the Act is incompatible with Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, which relates to respect for private and family life, and Article 14, which protects from discrimination. It was rejected on the basis that it was “institutionally inappropriate” for the Court to challenge Parliament’s decision.
In 2014, the Court rejected a similar argument brought by three disabled men (R (Nicklinson) v Ministry of Justice (CNK Alliance Limited and Others Intervening). The case was different in that Mr Nicklinson had suffered paralysis after a stroke whereas Mr Conway is dying.
The Court said that changing the law was a matter for Parliament, but in September 2015, Members of Parliament rejected for a right to die in England and Wales. He has now successfully appealed the right for a review and the case has been remitted to the High Court and is expected to be heard in the next few months. This will be the first such case since Parliament’s vote rejecting the right.
In this country you can make a Health and Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) so your family can stay in charge of health issues, The LPA will allow you to elect whether your attorney can make decisions or whether medical professionals would be the decision makers. This includes decisions regarding whether or not you receive life sustaining treatment.
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