Friday, 22 June 2012
Tony Nicklinson's right to die
I think that regular readers of this blog will know by now my views on the individual's right to seek assistance to end his or her own life.
At this point I need to very clear. Assisted death is the right to decide you need help to end your life. It should be legalised. Euthanasia is someone else deciding to end your life and should rightly remain categorised as murder.
In 2005, Tony Nicklinson had a catastrophic stroke which left him with what is known as 'locked-in syndrome'. He is paralysed from the neck down and unable to speak. He communicates by blinking or limited head movement.
"I need help in almost every aspect of my life," he explained in a letter read out by his lawyer. "I have no privacy or dignity left. I am fed up with my life and don't want to spend the next 20 years or so like this. I'm not depressed so do not need counselling. I have had over six years to think about my future and it does not look good. I can expect no cure or improvement in my condition as my muscles and joints seize up through lack of use.
"Indeed, I can expect to dribble my way into old age. If I am lucky I will acquire a life-threatening illness such as cancer so that I can refuse treatment and say 'no' to those who would keep me alive against my will.
"By all means protect the vulnerable," he added. "By 'vulnerable' I mean those who cannot make decisions for themselves. Just don't include me. I am not vulnerable. I don't need help or protection from death or those who would help me. If the legal consequences were not so huge – ie life imprisonment – perhaps I could get someone to help me. As things stand, I can't get help."
He is arguing in the High Court that a doctor should be allowed to help him end his life as he cannot do it for himself. It's a landmark case. The contra-argument is that there is a slippery slope between assisted death and euthanasia. I do not accept this argument and neither does Tony Nicklinson.
What he seeks are two declarations from the court. One is that in the circumstances of his case - and where an order has been sought from the court in advance - "the common law defence of necessity would be available to a doctor who, acting out of his professional and human duty, assisted him to die".
The other is that the current law of assisted suicide and euthanasia is incompatible with his Article 8 rights of autonomy and dignity.
I have the greatest sympathy for this man. His life is clearly intolerable and he wishes to end it. It is not a passing whim, or a fit of depression but rather a carefully considered and consistent position.
How would you feel if you were in his position?