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November 2017


High Court rejects right to die challenge

A legal challenge to section 2 of the 1961 Suicide Act presented by a Motor-neurone sufferer has been rejected by The High Court. Mr Noel Conway, 67, wanted a doctor to be allowed to provide him with a lethal dose to assist him in ending his life when his state of health worsens. His lawyers were backed by Dignity in Dying and Humanists UK and they argued that the current ban on assisted suicide and euthanasia breaches Mr Conway's human rights.

The judges concluded that Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (Right to respect for private life) is a qualified right but not an unlimited one. It does not include the obligation of the state to provide a lethal dose to a person to assist them in ending their life. In a democratic society, the rights and freedoms of other people must be protected under law and the judges ruled that “Parliament is entitled to regard [section 2 of the suicide act] as necessary as a protection for the weak and vulnerable. It is also entitled to regard it as a measure which gives proper respect to the sanctity of life.” (As quoted by LifeNews)

Care Not Killing Alliance Campaign Director Dr Peter Saunders welcomed the decision saying: "The safest law is the one we currently have, which gives a blanket prohibition on all assisted suicide and euthanasia. This deters exploitation and abuse through the penalties that it holds in reserve, but at the same time gives some discretion to prosecutors and judges to temper justice with mercy in hard cases….We welcome the decision by the High Court to completely reject this attempt to change the law and hope that as a society we can now turn our attention to the important issue of ensuring the highest level of palliative and social care for disabled people, the terminally ill and how we fund that." He also spoke about how, "a change in the law is opposed by every major disability rights organisation and doctors' group, including the BMA, Royal College of GPs and the Association for Palliative Medicine." (As quoted by SPUC) 

Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of Christian Concern commented saying “These cases are always emotive because all of us want to be kind in the face of human suffering. It is vital, however, that we do not lose sight of the key principles at stake, and the implications of any court decision on other people. It certainly wouldn’t be compassionate to allow any weakening of the protection that the current law provides....Assisted suicide is wrong in principle. A civilised society does not legislate for the killing of its citizens, especially its most vulnerable. It uses the law to uphold their dignity and to offer the highest protection. As well as the principle, in practice, it isn’t possible to design suitable protections to make sure that sick, elderly, unwell, depressed or lonely people are not put at risk or put under pressure....Rather than pushing for assisted suicide, which raises huge ethical issues and would be a dangerous move, society should be investing in research into underlying conditions and even better palliative care than we have today." (As quoted by Christian Concern)

Another group to welcome the decision was Not Dead Yet, a disability rights campaign group. Spokeswoman Juliet Marrow said "We are looking forward to the national conversation now focussing on the real issue here, which is a lack of adequate social care being provided to people with disabilities. Similarly we need a proper discussion on ensuring proper palliative care is provided for the terminally ill,” (As quoted by The Guardian)