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Conway assisted-dying case has too little chance of success to be heard, Supreme Court decides

28 November 2018


Noel Conway outside the Telford Justice Centre, where he watched the appeal process, in May

Noel Conway outside the Telford Justice Centre, where he watched the appeal process, in May

THE Supreme Court has refused a terminally ill man, Noel Conway, permission for a final appeal against a ruling that he may not be assisted to die.

Mr Conway, a 68-year-old retired lecturer, has motor neurone disease. He was seeking to appeal against a Court of Appeal judgment, given in June, after his lawyers unsuccessfully sought a declaration that the UK’s ban on assisted suicide was “incompatible” with his rights under the European Convention (News, 27 June).

“No one doubts that the issue raises arguable points of law,” the President of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale, sitting with Lord Reed, the deputy president, and Lord Kerr, ruled on Tuesday. “Only Parliament could change this law.”

But the judges had concluded that a further appeal would have too little prospect of success. “Not without some reluctance, it has been concluded that in this case those prospects are not sufficient to justify giving permission to appeal.”

Mr Conway has expressed the wish to die before his health deteriorates and he is rendered mentally incapable of making a “voluntary, clear, settled, and informed” decision. His case fell in the High Court in 2017, but his legal team gained leave to appeal (News, 21 July 2017, News, 4 May).

His solicitor, Yogi Amin, of the firm Irwin Mitchell, said on Tuesday: “The [Supreme Court] has accepted that it could make a declaration that the current blanket ban on assisted dying breaches British human rights law. For now, the legal issue and the unfairness remains unresolved.”

The three judges state that Mr Conway could bring about his death in another way, by refusing consent to continued non-invasive ventilation (NIV), without which, their decision states, he cannot survive for more than a few minutes.

“However, Mr Conway does not accept that the withdrawal of his NIV under heavy sedation would be a dignified death.”

Mr Conway said on Tuesday that the decision was “extremely disappointing. It means that I will not be able to have my arguments heard by the highest court in the land. Dying people like me cannot wait years for another case to be heard. . .

“I have no choice over whether I die; my illness means I will die anyway. The only option I currently have is to remove my ventilator and effectively suffocate to death under sedation. To me this is not acceptable, and for many other dying people this choice is not available at all.

“All I want is the option to die peacefully, with dignity, on my own terms. . . It is downright cruel to continue to deny me and other terminally ill people this right.”

He pledged to turn his attention to Parliament. “I hope that MPs will listen to the vast majority of their constituents and give people like me a say over our deaths.”

The chief executive of Dignity in Dying, Sarah Wootton, described the Supreme Court decision as “a grave injustice for dying people” around the UK. “Not only does today’s decision let down dying people, it lets Parliament off the hook. . . We must ask why the UK is being left behind. Our current laws on assisted dying are outdated, unclear, and unsafe.”

The decision was welcomed by other campaigners, however. A spokeswoman from the group Right to Life, Clare McCarthy, said: “Our current law protects people with disabilities and vulnerable people from being coerced into ending their lives.

“This ruling upholds previous decisions by Parliament and judges making it clear that the current protections provided by the current law are vital. The Royal Colleges of Physicians, Surgeons, and General Practitioners, the British Medical Association, the Association of Palliative Medicine, and many others have made it clear that the safest law is the one we currently have.”

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