Shropshire Man Loses Court Battle For Choice At End Of Life

5 October 2017, 11:10 | Updated: 5 October 2017, 11:14

Noel Conway - High Court

A man from Shropshire who says he feels "entombed by his terminal illness" has lost his legal fight for choice at the end of life.

Noel Conway, a 67-year-old retired lecturer from Shrewsbury, says that he feels "entombed" by his motor neurone disease, which was diagnosed nearly three years ago.

When he has less than six months to live and retains the mental capacity to make the decision, he wishes to be able to enlist assistance from the medical profession to bring about a "peaceful and dignified" death.

The law as it stands means that anyone who helped him would be committing a criminal offence.

Mr Conway, who was not at London's
High Court on Thursday, wanted a declaration that the Suicide Act 1961 is incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which relates to respect for private and family life, and Article 14, which protects from discrimination.

But Lord Justice Sales, Mrs Justice Whipple and Mr Justice Garnham rejected his case.

Mr Conway said in a statement: "I am deeply disappointed by today's judgement and fully intend to appeal it. The experiences of those who are terminally ill need to be heard.

"This decision denies me a real say over how and when I will die.

"I am told the only option I currently have is to effectively suffocate to death by choosing to remove my ventilator, which I am now dependent on to breathe for up to 22 hours a day.

"There is no way of knowing how long it would take me to die if I did this, or whether my suffering could be fully relieved. To me, this is not choice - this is cruelty.

"As I approach the end of my life, I face unbearable suffering and the possibility of a traumatic, drawn out death.

"Travelling to Switzerland is no longer a viable option and I cannot put my family or doctors at risk of prosecution by asking for their help here at home.

"Knowing I had the option of a safe, peaceful assisted death at a time of my choosing would allow me to face my final months without the fear and anxiety that currently plagues me and my loved ones.

"It would allow me to live the rest of my life on my own terms, knowing I was in control rather than at the mercy of a cruel illness.

"Throughout this case I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support the public has shown me. I know that this fight is important not just to me, but thousands of others.

"I am undeterred by today's decision and will appeal it with the support of my legal team and Dignity in Dying."

The case was opposed by the Secretary of State for Justice, with Humanists UK, Care Not Killing and Not Dead Yet UK also making submissions.

James Strachan QC said that it was inappropriate for the courts to interfere with Parliament's legitimate decision on the "sensitive moral, social and ethical issue" raised by the case.

It is the first challenge to the existing law since the case of Tony Nicklinson, who suffered from paralysis after a stroke.

That was ultimately dismissed in June 2014 by the Supreme Court, which said it was important that Parliament debated the issues before any decision was made by the courts.

After debates in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, Parliament decided, at least for the moment, not to provide for legislative exceptions to the 1961 Act.

Mr Conway's counsel, Richard Gordon QC, said it was a "very narrowly focused" case which sought only to challenge the blanket ban on assisted dying for a relatively small category, which included Mr Conway.

This covered adults over 18 who were diagnosed with a terminal illness with a prognosis of six months or less, who had mental capacity, who had made a "voluntary, clear, settled and informed" decision to receive assistance to die, and who retained the ability to undertake the final act required to bring about their death.

The evidence demonstrated that a practical scheme, including suitable safeguards, could be devised for those in Mr Conway's narrowly defined group who could safely be provided with assistance to die without affecting the legitimate aim of the protection of the weak and vulnerable, said counsel.

Mr Strachan said that Mr Conway's "tragic and distressing" circumstances could only evoke the deepest sympathy.

But, the circumstances which led the Supreme Court to refuse such a declaration had not changed so as to make a different outcome justified.

"Parliament has very recently decided to reject exactly the sort of change to the existing law which the claimant is relying upon in these proceedings.

"The issue continues to be subject to scrutiny by Parliament as demonstrated by the recent debates in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords and by the anticipated reintroduction of an Assisted Dying Bill in the House of Lords for the 2017/2019 parliamentary session."