A TERMINALLY ill man whose application to allow doctors to assist him to die legally was heard in the Court of Appeal this week has said that he is positive about his chances of success.
Pro-life and disability-rights campaigners gathered in protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice, in London, on Tuesday, as lawyers representing Noel Conway, a 68-year-old retired lecturer who is dying of motor neurone disease, put forward the case for legalising euthanasia in favour of their client.
Mr Conway has expressed his 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 July, but his legal team won the right to appeal (News, 21 July).
Nathalie Lieven QC told senior judges on Tuesday: “The question for this court is not a very generalised one of the morality or ethics of allowing doctors to assist patients to die.
“The question for this court is rather a focused one of whether, for this very specific cohort, i.e. terminally ill people with less than six months to live, the ban is justifiable because of an impact on the weak and vulnerable.”
But Nikki Kenward, who has Guillain-Barré syndrome, and who organised the display of protest outside the courts, which represented a graveyard, warned that any change to the law would have significant consequences for her and other disabled people.
“As a disabled person, I am only too aware that some people see me as having ‘no quality of life’. A young friend, who has cerebral palsy, and I were told by a youth worker, ‘If I were you two I’d rather be dead.’ Please don’t tell me I will not be vulnerable if euthanasia is legalised.”
Her husband and carer, Merv, said: “As a carer, one of my greatest fears is what will happen to Nikki if I’m not here to care for her. When I consider the dreadful alternatives that are available, including the looming possibility of euthanasia, I am reminded that those around me have a willingness to see her as a burden, living a life that they would not choose.”
But Ms Lieven told the court: “Mr Conway reiterates that, if suitable safeguards are in place, the wider interests of society cannot possibly be said to require him to undergo such a death in the name of securing against possible risks to weak and vulnerable individuals.”
The Conway case is the first attempt to change the law since the case brought by the late Tony Nicklinson, who died five years ago from locked-in syndrome (News, 24 August 2012). His family lost his case in the Supreme Court in 2014, which said that the issue must be debated by the Government before any decision was made by the courts.
In 2015, a Private Member’s Bill to introduce assisted dying was rejected by the House of Commons in its early stages. It was opposed by senior figures in the Church of England (News, 24 July 2015). The European Court of Human Rights also ruled against the family.
Mr Conway, who was too ill to attend court in person, but watched the proceedings via a video link, told the BBC that he felt “quietly optimistic” about the outcome of the hearing.
“The greatest fear I have is still being alive but not able to use my body. I want to end my life with dignity, cleanly, and in full consciousness; I don’t want to linger on for weeks.”