Terminally-ill Noel Conway has vowed to appeal against a legal decision which has denied him a say over how and when he will die.
The 67-year-old retired lecturer from Shrewsbury, who says he feels “entombed” by his motor neurone disease, is dependent on a ventilator and was not at the High Court to hear Lord Justice Sales, Mrs Justice Whipple and Mr Justice Garnham reject his case on Thursday.
They dismissed his application for a declaration that the Suicide Act 1961 is incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which relates to respect for private and family life.
Terminally-ill Noel Conway, 67 (Aaron Chown/PA)
When Mr Conway has less than six months to live and retains the mental capacity to make the decision, he wishes to be able to enlist assistance from the medical profession to bring about a “peaceful and dignified” death.
The law as it stands means that anyone who helped him would be committing a criminal offence.
He said in a statement: “I am deeply disappointed by today’s judgment and fully intend to appeal it. The experiences of those who are terminally ill need to be heard.
“This decision denies me a real say over how and when I will die. I am told the only option I currently have is to effectively suffocate to death by choosing to remove my ventilator, which I am now dependent on to breathe for up to 22 hours a day.
“There is no way of knowing how long it would take me to die if I did this, or whether my suffering could be fully relieved. To me, this is not choice – this is cruelty.
“As I approach the end of my life, I face unbearable suffering and the possibility of a traumatic, drawn- out death. Travelling to Switzerland is no longer a viable option and I cannot put my family or doctors at risk of prosecution by asking for their help here at home.
“Knowing I had the option of a safe, peaceful, assisted death at a time of my choosing would allow me to face my final months without the fear and anxiety that currently plagues me and my loved ones.
“It would allow me to live the rest of my life on my own terms, knowing I was in control rather than at the mercy of a cruel illness.
“Throughout this case I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support the public has shown me. I know that this fight is important not just to me, but thousands of others.
“I am undeterred by today’s decision and will appeal it with the support of my legal team and Dignity In Dying.”
The case was opposed by the Secretary of State for Justice, with Humanists UK, Care Not Killing and Not Dead Yet UK also making submissions.
James Strachan QC said that while Mr Conway’s “tragic and distressing” circumstances could only evoke the deepest sympathy, it was inappropriate for the courts to interfere with Parliament’s legitimate decision on the “sensitive moral, social and ethical issue” raised.
It is the first challenge to the existing law since the case of Tony Nicklinson, who suffered from paralysis after a stroke.
That was ultimately dismissed in June 2014 by the Supreme Court, which said it was important that Parliament debated the issues before any decision was made by the courts.
After debates in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, Parliament decided, at least for the moment, not to provide for legislative exceptions to the 1961 Act.
In today’s ruling, Lord Justice Sales said that the prohibition against provision of assistance in the Act achieved a fair balance between the interests of the wider community and the interests of people in Mr Conway’s position.
“It is legitimate in this area for the legislature to seek to lay down clear and defensible standards in order to provide guidance for society, to avoid distressing and difficult disputes at the end of life and to avoid creating a slippery slope leading to incremental expansion over time of the categories of people to whom similar assistance for suicide might have to be provided.”
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