Supreme Court rejects right to die plea

Paul Lamb said the conclusions were a step towards change. Picture: SWNS
Paul Lamb said the conclusions were a step towards change. Picture: SWNS
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A PARALYSED builder and the widow of a man who had locked-in syndrome have lost a right-to-die fight in the UK’s highest court but said they were hopeful change would come.

Supreme Court justices yesterday ruled against Paul Lamb and Jane Nicklinson by a seven-two majority in London.

Mr Lamb and Mrs Nicklinson, whose husband Tony died nearly two years ago, wanted 
the court to rule that disabled people should have the right to be helped to die with dignity.

Justices had been asked to decide whether a ban on assisted suicide – outlined in the 1961 Suicide Act – was compatible with the right to respect for private and family life enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights. 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 human rights. Two of those five said they would have made such a declaration.

Mr Lamb, from Leeds, and Mrs Nicklinson, both 58, said those conclusions were a “positive” step in the fight for change.

Mr Lamb, who was left paralysed after a road accident more than 20 years ago, said: “I am very proud of myself. I know it is going to change.”

Mrs Nicklinson, from Melksham, Wiltshire, whose husband Tony died aged 58 in 2012 after starting the legal fight, added: “I am disappointed we lost. But it is a very positive step. Parliament will have to discuss this. I think Tony would be very pleased at how far we have come.”

Supreme Court justices also dismissed a separate challenge by another disabled man after analysing guidance given by Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

The man, identified only as “Martin”, argued that a “policy statement” setting out “public interest factors to be considered… to prosecute” was an unlawful interference with the right to respect for private and family life.

His challenge was dismissed unanimously.

However, Martin said in a statement: “Today’s judgment takes me one step closer to being able to decide how and when I end my life. I welcome it for this reason.

“But this whole process has been excruciating, slow and tedious. I would implore the DPP to amend her written guidance as a matter of absolute priority.

“People in my situation, who have the right to choose how to end their lives, should be able to get the assistance they need from people outside their family. The DPP has said as much to the court. She must now do the same to the public in general so there is no confusion.”

Richard Hawkes, of disability charity Scope, said: “Many disabled people will be reassured by this ruling. The current law against assisted suicide works.

“It sends a powerful message countering the view that if you’re disabled it’s not worth being alive, and that you’re a burden. It’s a view that is all too common.

“We are deeply concerned that a change in the law will lead to disabled people feeling under pressure to end their lives.

“Why is it that when people who are not disabled want to commit suicide, we try to talk them out of it, but when a disabled person wants to commit suicide, we focus on how we can make that possible?”