ISSUES relating to assisted suicide and the right to die were
argued before the Supreme Court this week in appeals brought by, or
on behalf of, three severely disabled claimants.
The first appeal was by Jane Nicklinson, the widow of Tony
Nicklinson, who had "locked-in" syndrome after a stroke. He lost
his appeal to the Court of Appeal last July, and died in August,
but his widow pursues his appeal.
The second was by Paul Lamb, aged 58, who was involved in a car
accident in 1990 which left him severely paralysed. The third
claimant, identified only as "Martin," aged 49, also has
"locked-in" syndrome following a stroke.
Mr Lamb and "Martin" both want their lives ended, but are unable
to do so without assistance. The law prohibits anyone from
assisting another person to commit suicide. The claimants
challenged the law in that regard, and said that it violated their
right under article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights to respect
for their private and family life.
The Court of Appeal dismissed the claims, and said that such
changes in the law were a matter for Parliament, not for the
courts. The CNK Alliance Ltd (Care Not Killing), Dignity and Choice
in Dying, and the British Humanist Society participated in the
appeal as interveners.
The four-day hearing in the Supreme Court took place before a
panel of nine Supreme Court justices, including Lord Neuberger, the
President of the Supreme Court. Judgment is not expected for some
Lords debate assisted dying. The Bishop of
Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft, brought a personal perspective to a
debate on assisted dying in the House of Lords last week when he
described how, in the past few days, he had been involved in
conversations concerning his father, who was "very seriously ill",
writes Madeleine Davies.
Commenting that the debate, tabled by Lord Dubs, was
"particularly poignant" for him, Dr Croft used his maiden speech in
the House to draw attention to the "significant questions" posed by
death, an "existential event", and the importance of hospital
chaplains. He urged the Government to "en-sure that the part they
play is written clearly into the documents which will shape
end-of-life care into the future".
The Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, echoed Dr Croft in
voicing his opposition to changing the law on assisted dying, but
acknowledged the "strength of the momentum for legalising assisted
suicide". He concluded: "If you accept assisted suicide
fundamentally on the basis of autonomous choice, how can you simply
leave it to a very restricted group who are believed to be
"Logically, one day or another, sooner or later, it would have
to be extended. . . The risks inherent in legalising assisted
suicide still outweigh the benefits that might accrue."
Lord Harries, a former Bishop of Oxford, also spoke of the
danger of giving pre-eminence to patient choice: "Although patient
choice is a good, it is not the only good . . . sometimes there is
an overriding good. . . By having the law - which does express
moral values - in place, that conveys society's high estimate of
every single human life."