Right to Die – issues raised by the case of Tony Nicklinson

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Posted 22/08/2012

Tony Nicklinson, who had a devastating stroke in 2005 leaving him unable to do anything for himself, sought legal permission to allow a doctor to assist him in committing suicide but lost his case in the High Court. Following this, he refused food and sadly died yesterday. Trefine Maynard, a medical injury solicitor at Ashtons Legal, comments: “There have been a number of high profile court cases that have tried by various methods to establish a ‘right to die’ and to protect anyone helping an individual to die from prosecution. It is impossible not to have immense sympathy with those who know that the future for them is limited and that it may hold a great deal of distress and pain. At the same time, they know they may be unable to do anything for themselves to hasten death and thus decide on their own terms when they have had enough. The issues however are very complex as they in effect pass responsibility for ending someone’s life to another person. Not only does this put huge emotional burdens on anyone being asked to help, but it also has extensive implications on the position of anyone who has limited practical control over their own lives and is dependant on others to support them. It is feared that if there were a ‘right to die’ then it would put pressure on the injured person and on their helpers to make a positive decision to end life. There are fears that those attending someone who cannot make their wishes clear might feel that the person wanted to make a decision either to live or to seek help to die, and the consequences of getting the decision wrong would be terrible for everyone. The tragedy of the current state of the law, however, is that those who have a deteriorating condition often feel they are pushed into taking matters into their own hands earlier than strictly necessary, simply because they are so worried about leaving it too long and then finding they have lost the ability to take steps for themselves. This is a terrible conundrum for society, but in seeking to emphasise and protect the sanctity of life, it is impossible to see how the court could have acted differently.It seems that, having lost his court battle, Mr Nickleson took the only route open to him to bring about his own death. The years since he suffered the stroke must have been distressing beyond the imagination of most of us for both him and his family. In this terrible position, we can only have huge sympathy for them all.”


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