Human rights court rejects right-to-die cases

The European Court of Human Rights has rejected a right-to-die case brought by a paralysed former builder and the widow of man who had locked-in syndrome.

Paul Lamb with Jane Nicklinson, widow of Tony Nicklinson, and her daughter. Picture: PA

Paul Lamb and Jane Nicklinson, whose 58-year-old husband Tony died more than two years ago, brought the case at the court in Strasbourg in the culmination of their campaign that disabled people should have the right to be helped to die with dignity.

Mr Lamb, who comes from Bramley, Leeds, was left paralysed after a road accident more than 20 years ago.

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But yesterday, in a written judgment, the court said: “In its decision in the case of Nicklinson and Lamb v the United Kingdom the European Court of Human Rights has unanimously declared the applications inadmissible. The decision is final.”

Mr Lamb and Mrs Nicklinson went to the European Court of Human Rights after the Supreme Court – the highest court in the UK – rejected their claim in June last year.

The court was asked to decide whether a prohibition on assisted suicide – outlined in the 1961 Suicide Act – was compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Supreme Court judges ruled against Mr Lamb and Mrs Nicklinson, both 58, by a seven-two majority, following a hearing in London.

But five of the nine justices concluded that the court had the “constitutional authority’’ to declare that a general prohibition on assisted suicide was incompatible with the human right to private and family life enshrined in the convention.

In the landmark ruling Lord Neuberger, president of the Supreme Court, said that if MPs and peers did not give serious consideration to legalising assisted suicide, there was a “real prospect” a future legal challenge would succeed.

Mr Nicklinson, who suffered from locked-in syndrome, died in 2012 aged 58 – days after losing a High Court case to allow doctors to end his life.

The civil engineer was paralysed from the neck down following a stroke in 2005 and described his life as a “living nightmare”. He could only communicate using a special computer which tracked his eye movements, and consistently said he wanted to die.

But because he would need a doctor to administer a lethal injection, the former rugby player was unable to even travel to Switzerland for assisted dying, and he mounted a long legal challenge to overturn centuries-old laws on murder and manslaughter.

Mrs Nicklinson took up her husband’s campaign following his death.

In yesterday’s judgment, the European Court (ECtHR) said: “Mrs Nicklinson, the wife of Tony Nicklinson (now deceased) who was suffering from locked-in syndrome and wished to end his life, complained that the domestic courts had failed to determine the compatibility of the law in the UK on assisted suicide with her and her husband’s right to respect for private and family life.

“The ECtHR declared this application inadmissible.”