Shropshire man calls for change in law after supreme court rejects case

27 November 2018, 14:21 | Updated: 27 November 2018, 14:24

Noel Conway - High Court

Terminally-ill Noel Conway has called on politicians to change the law on assisted dying after his legal fight to die "peacefully and with dignity" was rejected by the UK's highest court.

The 68-year-old retired lecturer, from Shrewsbury, who has motor neurone disease, said the Supreme Court's refusal to hear his appeal was "extremely disappointing" and is the "end of the road" for his case.

But he said campaigners would take the fight for a change in the law to Parliament.

In a statement after the court announced its decision on Tuesday, he said: "All I want is the option to die peacefully, with dignity, on my own terms, and I know that the majority of the public are behind me.

"It is downright cruel to continue to deny me and other terminally-ill people this right.

"This is the end of the road for my case, so we must now turn our attention back to Parliament.

"I hope that MPs will listen to the vast majority of their constituents and give people like me a say over our deaths."

Supreme Court justices rejected Mr Conway's bid to appeal against an earlier ruling in his fight over current legislation which prevents him from being helped to die.

He wants assistance from a medical professional to end his own life when he has less than six months left to live and still has mental capacity.

Such assistance is currently a serious criminal offence with a maximum sentence of 14 years' imprisonment.

Mr Conway said his only option is to "effectively suffocate to death" by having his ventilation removed, which is "not acceptable" to him.

He added: "Dying people like me cannot wait years for another case to be heard.

"I am particularly disappointed that the courts have instead listened to the arguments of doctors who have never met me but think they know best about the end of my life.

"I have no choice over whether I die; my illness means I will die anyway.

"The only option I currently have is to remove my ventilator and effectively suffocate to death under sedation.

"To me this is not acceptable, and for many other dying people this choice is not available at all."

Mr Conway lost a Court of Appeal challenge in June against an earlier High Court rejection of his case that the "blanket ban" on assisted dying was an unjustified interference with his human rights.

He sought to challenge that at the Supreme Court and justices took the unusual step of considering his case at a hearing last week.

During that hearing, Mr Conway's lawyers told the court the retired lecturer does not accept that withdrawal of his "non-invasive ventilation" (NIV), which he needs 23 hours a day, would be an acceptable way for him to end his life.

They said he is particularly fearful he would experience a "drowning" sensation he currently feels when his ventilation is removed temporarily and worries he would not be able to hear his family or feel their touch while sedated.

But Lady Hale, Lord Reed and Lord Kerr declined permission for an appeal.

Giving reasons for their decision, the justices said in a joint statement that only Parliament can change the law.

They said the prospects of Mr Conway's appeal succeeding were "not sufficient to justify" giving him permission for a full hearing.

Mr Conway, whose case was supported by the campaign group Dignity In Dying, was too unwell to travel to London for the Supreme Court hearing.

He is now dependent on a ventilator for up to 23 hours a day and only has movement in his right hand, head and neck.

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity In Dying: "We will now turn our attention back to Parliament and demonstrate to our MPs the strength of feeling on assisted dying.

"Last time around, MPs failed in their duty to represent the views of their constituents.

"Next time, we hope they will stand up for a safer, more compassionate law that benefits dying people."