The courts may be able to wait, but Omid can’t.

The latest stage of Omid’s legal case to be allowed an assisted death in the UK was heard in the High Court on 7/8th March 2018. The Daily Mail reported it here.

Omid’s legal team argued for the right to cross-examine expert witnesses – in particular to question the written evidence given by Baroness Ilora Finlay. Baroness Finlay is the primary expert witness brought by the crown to oppose Omid’s claim. She is professor of palliative medicine at Cardiff University and chair of the Board of Trustees of the National Council for Palliative Care. She is also an outspoken opponent to any change in the law on assisted suicide.

Details of Omid’s legal case are available here. Particularly interesting are the specific questions that Omid’s team wish to put to Baroness Finlay in section F. Examples include “the harmful impact of the absolute ban upon people in Omid’s situation and the extent of the interference with their rights of autonomy and bodily integrity” and “whether there is a rational connection between the absolute ban … and the identified aims of protecting vulnerable people and the protection of morals”.

Further questions include “Whether there is any causative link between the availability of palliative care and a jurisdiction being more permissive or prohibitive” And “Whether a  more  permissive  approach  is  likely  to  have a  negative  impact  on doctor-patient relationships and public trust in the public health system”. Expert witnesses on the two sides of the debate appear to bring contradictory evidence.  A recent study found that the leading palliative care systems in the EU were in Luxembourg, UK, Belgium and the Netherlands – 3 out of 4 of which have had legalised euthanasia for between 9 and 16 years. We need a thorough investigation of the facts and careful examination of the claims being made. The High Court may be an appropriate place for this.

Unfortunately, it does not seem that we will hear this cross-examination of evidence any time soon. At the end of the two day hearing the court conclusion was “…We are going to adjourn our ruling on this preliminary issue until the judgement in Conway is known…”. (“Conway” is the case of Noel Conway, which, though related to Omid’s, is restricted to cases of terminal illness where the life expectancy is six months or less. Omid’s case is significantly broader than this.) The Conway case returns to court in early May, with the ruling probably not being reached until a few weeks later.

In the meantime, Omid continues to suffer – increasingly badly according to what he says on his crowdjustice web page: “My health is very poor now and I just hope all this can be over soon so I can end my life. … It is torture for me and I don’t understand what is the use of all this suffering. The funny thing is that those who are against me say they are doing this in name of human rights. Whose human rights? Not mine it seems.”

He seems more convinced than ever that he wants his life to end as soon as possible. Perhaps he will find a way – but, short of refusing food and drink, there is no way he can do this in the UK without illegal help.

Where is the palliative care that opponents to a change in law tell us make assisted dying unnecessary? Why isn’t it working for people like Omid? How many other people are also prevented from having the good death they wish for, when that is a peaceful medically assisted death at a time of their choosing, and who instead have to end their life in unwanted, prolonged and unnecessary suffering?

In the face of incurable suffering, despite the best palliative care, for some people, like Omid, the doctor-patient relationship seems badly broken, and can only be repaired by a change in the law.