The case for assisted dying?

Today, the High Court has considered a challenge against the law brought by Noel Conway, a man living with motor neurone disease with a life expectancy of less than 12 months.

Mr Conway wants to be able to end his life when he has less than 6 months to live and would like a medical professional to help him achieve this. At present, anyone assisting someone to commit suicide, be it a family member or a medical professional, would be committing a criminal offence.

The argument brought by Mr Conway was that the Suicide Act 1961 is incompatible with European human rights legislation and as such, interfered with his right to a private life.

The judges have ruled against Mr Conway and it remains to be seen whether Mr Conway will be allowed permission to appeal against today’s ruling.

It is incredibly difficult to separate out the legal argument from the ethical and social issues this cases brings. The last such challenge along these lines was brought by Tony Nicklinson whose application was unsuccessful but did generate a debate in parliament. Following the debate, parliament decided not to change the law; however, whether this new case will generate further debate remains to be seen.

There are strong advocates on either side of the debate and no doubt others in Mr Conway’s position in the future will continue to lobby for a change in the law. There will, of course, be further complications in interpreting the law as the UK extricates itself from EU law as part of the Brexit process. As such, for clients living with motor neurone disease and other similar conditions, there seems to be little hope for a change in the law any time soon.

For clients wanting to discuss end of life issues and giving authority to others to make care decisions, contact a member of our team on 0113 201 4900 to discuss Lasting Powers of Attorney for healthcare decisions.

Helen Gott

Written by

Helen Gott

Director & Head of Wills & Probate

Helen is a solicitor, Director and Head of the Wills & Probate department at Emsleys Solicitors. Since qualifying in 2010, Helen has specialised exclusively in the area of Wills & Probate and is described as "very knowledgeable" in The Legal 500 2018-19. Helen is an expert in wills,...

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