Supreme Court To Hear Landmark Right to Die Cases

Lawyer Says Decision Is Landmark Moment In Development of Assisted Suicide Laws

16.12.2013

Dave Grimshaw, Press Officer | 0114 274 4397

The Supreme Court is set to hear the final stage of three challenges to the ban on assisted suicide this week.

A full panel of nine Supreme Court Justices, headed by Lord Neuberger, the court’s President, is to be convened next week to hear the culmination of the legal challenge to the current ban on assisted suicide.

The three cases have been put into one case to allow a sweeping judgment on the current state of the law in England and Wales.

The cases being heard are that of Jane Nicklinson whose husband Tony suffered from “locked-in syndrome” and died last year, along with two severely disabled men who want to remove the ban on assisted suicide in certain situations.

Their argument is that the 1961 Suicide Act, which makes it a criminal offence to assist someone taking their own life, imposes “extraordinary and cruel” limits on individual freedom.

Law firm Irwin Mitchell is involved in the case, acting on behalf of the British Humanist Association (BHA) which is intervening on the side of allowing for personal autonomy and a dignified end of life.
 
Pavan Dhaliwal, BHA Head of Public Affairs commented: “This legal case is necessary to establish that being able to die, with dignity, in a manner of our choosing, should be understood to be a fundamental human right.

“The BHA has intervened in support of these brave individuals in this case, and the evidence which we have submitted, which was in part prepared by prominent moral philosophers focuses on the obligation to alleviate suffering, the principle of personal autonomy, and the right of mentally competent adults to make decisions about their lives, as long as they do not result in harm to others. 

“We hope that the Supreme Court judges will listen to the large majority in this country which supports a change in the law on assisted dying, and rule in favour of the right to a doctor-assisted death for the permanently incapacitated and incurably suffering.”

Yogi Amin, a Partner in the Public Law team at Irwin Mitchell, representing the BHA said:

Expert Opinion
The fact that the Supreme Court is putting up a panel of nine judges, headed by the most senior Lord Neuberger, shows how important this case is. This is a landmark moment in the development of the law relating to assisted suicide and will have a major impact in how the situation moves forward over the coming years.

“It’s worth remembering that there are no real winners in this tragic situation. The individuals involved feel that they have been left with no choice and are seeking help from the courts in being able to carry out their final wish.

“The law needs to be extremely clear on what can and can’t be done and should treat all individuals fairly. There is a need to reflect modern society which has changed massively over the past few decades. Both Parliament and judge-made law should develop to allow for personal autonomy where necessary."
Yogi Amin, Partner

Tony Nicklinson was an active father of two in his fifties when he was left almost completely paralysed after a catastrophic stroke. He had campaigned for doctors to be allowed to help him end his life.

He died last year after refusing food following the rejection of his case at the High Court but his widow was allowed to continue in his case all the way to the Supreme Court because of the importance of the legal issues.

The other parties in the case are Paul Lamb, 57, who was left quadriplegic following a car crash 23 years ago, and a man known only as “Martin” who wants the law changed to allow strangers to step in when family members are unwilling or unable to help with arrangements.

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