Locked-in syndrome sufferer Tony Nicklinson’s existence of “pure torture” could continue for another 20 years or more if he does not win the right to end his life when he chooses, the High Court has heard.
Paul Bowen, QC, for 58-year-old Mr Nicklinson, from Melksham, Wiltshire, told three judges hearing his landmark “right-to-die” case: “Tony has now had almost seven years to contemplate his situation.
“With the continuing benefits of 21st century health and social care, his life expectancy can be expected to be normal – another 20 years or more. He does not wish to live that life.”
Mr Nicklinson, who suffered a catastrophic stroke in 2005 while on a business trip to Athens, sums up his existence as “dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable”.
A “very active and outgoing” man before the stroke, which left him paralysed below the neck and unable to speak, he now communicates by blinking or with limited head movement.
Mr Nicklinson, who wants a doctor to be able lawfully to end his life without fear of prosecution, describes how he has no “privacy or dignity left”, and says that what he objects to is having his right to choose taken away from him.
Mr Bowen told Lord Justice Toulson, Mr Justice Royce and Mrs Justice Macur that he was being condemned to live in a state of suffering and indignity by the current law of assisted suicide and euthanasia.
The law was “anomalous and discriminatory” and had not stopped the “widespread practice of euthanasia, but has forced it underground”. But he told the judges that Mr Nicklinson was not seeking to persuade the court to “introduce an all- encompassing new regime legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide”.
Mr Bowen added: “While he would welcome such a change, he accepts that such a regime can only be introduced by parliament. However, there is no sign of parliament introducing such a regime any time soon that would afford the claimant the opportunity of an assisted death with dignity.”
Mr Nicklinson maintained that in the absence of statutory regulation he was entitled to “remedy” from the court.
Although he could not attend the London courtroom, he was determined to get his case across to the judges. The hearing was attended by his wife Jane, 56, and the couple’s daughters Lauren, 24, and Beth, 23, who all support his decision.
Mr Bowen said Lauren described her father as being “forced to live an existence trapped in a broken body, following someone else’s rules, rules that he cannot abide by. He is living a life he does not wish to live. This is pure torture for him”.
Opposing the action, David Perry, QC, for the Ministry of Justice, said Mr Nicklinson’s “tragic and very distressing circumstances evoke the deepest sympathy”.
During a four-day hearing the judges will also hear arguments in a judicial review claim by another locked-in syndrome victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, who needs assistance to end his life.