Today, assisted dying campaigner Noel Conway has lost permission to bring a case before the Supreme Court.
Diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) four years ago, the retired teacher from Shrewsbury, is dependent upon a ventilator for up to 23 hours a day and has limited movement in his right hand, neck and head. Mr Conway now says that he wants the choice to decide when and how to die. However, he would be unable to do so without assistance.
Under current UK law, it is a criminal offence to assist the death of another and anyone found guilty faces a jail sentence of up to 14 years. However, at a permission hearing last week, Mr Conway’s lawyers argued that Section 2(1) of the 1961 Suicide Act was in breach of the 1998 Human Rights Act and should be declared incompatible.
In a handed down judgement today, the 3 justice panel comprising President Lady Hale, Deputy-President Lord Reed and Lord Kerr said that despite some legitimate differences of opinion within the court:
“Mr Conway could bring about his own death in another way, by refusing consent to the continuation of his NIV.”
“Ultimately, the question for the panel is whether the prospects of Mr Conway’s succeeding in his claim before this court are sufficient to justify our giving him permission to pursue it, with all that that would entail for him, for his family, for those on all sides of this multi-faceted debate, for the general public and for this court. Not without some reluctance, it has been concluded that in this case those prospects are not sufficient to justify giving permission to appeal.”
Mr Conway’s case followed almost two months after another assisted dying campaigner, Omid T, had lost a similar legal challenge and ended his life in Switzerland.
It is unclear what the longer term implications of this judgement may be. There is some indication from the court’s focus upon Mr Conway’s non invasive ventilation, that it would be possible for a different claimant, without this option, to bring a new case in the future.
Phil Cheatle, Coordinator of My Death, My Decision (MDMD) an organisation which campaigns for the law to change said:
“The public overwhelming support a positive change in the law, to help those like Noel to die with the dignity they deserve. Sadly, our courts and our parliamentarians are divided.”
“Motor Neurone Disease robbed Noel of his independence. It will eventually rob him of his dignity. Tragic as this is, it is not because of Motor Neurone Disease that his family will now be robbed of a peaceful last memory. It is because the law is wrong. We will continue to fight to help those like Noel and countless others incurably suffering.”
We are bitterly disappointed by today’s outcome. We believe that the current law is cruel to families, and unfair on the most vulnerable. We will continue to fight to help those like Noel, Omid and countless others incurably suffering. – 𝗣𝗵𝗶𝗹 𝗖𝗵𝗲𝗮𝘁𝗹𝗲 #NoelConway
— MyDeath, MyDecision (@MDMDmydecision) November 27, 2018