Is it our 'human right' to choose when to die?

The topic of euthanasia has been thrust back into the media spotlight following a decision to reject a right-to-die challenge. The family of late Tony Nicklinson and Paul Lamb have lost their right-to-die challenge at the Court of Appeal.

Mr Lamb has no function in any of his limbs apart from limited movement in his right hand following a car accident in 1990. The 58 year old from Leeds teamed up with the family of late Tony Nicklinson who died in 2012, to continue his fight for a doctor to end his life without fear of prosecution, currently an offence under the Suicide Act 1961.

Mr Lamb was hoping to win the court battle upon the same grounds that Mr Nicklinson had previously sought declarations for.

In particular he asserted that there should be a defence of 'necessity' available to a doctor who may be prepared assist him to die. He argued that the current  law was incompatible with his right to respect for private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mr Lamb's argument was  that this  Article of the Convention included a right to autonomy and self determination at the end of life. However, Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson and Lord Justice Elias rejected the appeal and confirmed the legal position as being  that euthanasia amounts to the criminal offence of murder.

Speaking before the ruling Mrs Nicklinson said: "What we are hoping for is that people like Tony who find themselves in such a terrible situation, as Paul Lamb does, when they feel they have had enough, a doctor can take their life for them because they are unable to do it themselves."

"It would be done on a one-by-one basis, each case would be heard by the courts and approved by the courts before it could be carried out."

She added, "It would only be for patients who are so severely disabled that they cannot do it themselves, but that are mentally competent to make the decision for themselves."

The counter argument is, of course, that such a law will put pressure on disabled people who could otherwise adapt or who have adapted to their circumstances to volunteer to end their own life out of concern as to the effect  of their disability on their family. It could also be argued that such a law would simply be the "thin edge of the wedge" and open up different circumstances when it could be lawful for a Doctor to end a patient's life with the elderly and infirm being treated much like the family pet being euthanized by the vet.

Despite the ruling, campaigners have vowed to keep fighting and Mrs Nicklinson stated: "They're not going to get rid of us that easily. We will apply to be allowed to appeal to the Supreme Court."

This is obviously a legal and ethical debate that will continue as long as there are people suffering desperate medical  conditions that have destroyed their quality of life and who wish to end their life.

Posted on: 01/08/2013

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.

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