My Life, My Death, My Choice

No. 43 of #50cases.

Imagine that one day, before you get old, without any warning, you suffer a terrible stroke. You will never recover. The only way to communicate is by blinking one eye. You are locked-in: can’t walk, talk, eat or drink. Would you want to stay alive?

That’s what happened to Tony Nicklinson and another man, called Martin in this case. Together with a third victim of catastrophic injury, Paul Lamb, they campaigned for the right to be allowed to choose the moment of their death, and to be assisted by friends, family or professionals, in seeing through that choice. They failed at the first and second hurdles. Tony Nicklinson was devastated by the failure and chose to starve himself to death before his case got to the highest level, but his wife didn’t give up. Last year, the highest court in the land found itself faced with a truly fundamental question of human rights: should we all have the right to die with dignity?

The judges wavered, they ducked and dived. It was a close thing. The men nearly won, but the judges’ sympathy for their plight wasn’t quite enough. Because the law says assisting someone to commit suicide is murder. Judges are there to uphold the law, not write it. That job is for Parliament, or so the judges said. The said they wanted to give Parliament the chance to think again. In the meantime, the case confirmed that friends, family and doctors who are genuinely helping their loved ones or patients to die with dignity, would rarely be charged with a crime.

So, for now,there is no right for people like Tony, Martin and Paul to choose the time of their death. But there may be soon.

Image via Nicole Mas / flickr.

This story is a short summary of a legal decision. You can read the full text here

Media Coverage of this story