Ter­mi­nally ill man chal­lenges right-to-die law in high court

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Owen Bow­cott Le­gal af­fairs cor­re­spon­dent

The case of a ter­mi­nally ill for­mer lec­turer will come be­fore high court judges this week in the first sub­stan­tial le­gal chal­lenge for sev­eral years to the UK’s ban on as­sisted dy­ing.

Noel Con­way, 67, from Shrews­bury, Shrop­shire, was di­ag­nosed with mo­tor neu­rone dis­ease in Novem­ber 2014. His con­di­tion is in­cur­able and he is not ex­pected to live be­yond 12 months.

The high court hear­ing, in­volv­ing three se­nior judges, is ex­pected to last five days. Con­way is sup­ported by Dig­nity in Dy­ing and other or­gan­i­sa­tions cam­paign­ing to change the 1961 Sui­cide Act. As things stand, peo­ple seek­ing help to end their lives are forced to travel to a clinic in Switzer­land.

Last week, sev­eral hun­dred sup­port­ers staged a protest on a river boat out­side the Houses of Par­lia­ment. Af­ter­wards, Con­way said: “In the past months, I have been struck by the num­ber of peo­ple who, like me, want the right to choose how we die. To­day has shown the huge strength of feel­ing of peo­ple who want the right to a dig­ni­fied death.”

Sarah Woot­ton, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Dig­nity in Dy­ing, said: “The Bri­tish pub­lic over­whelm­ingly sup­port a change in the law to give ter­mi­nally ill, men­tally com­pe­tent adults like Noel the choice of an as­sisted death. [The high court hear­ing] will con­sider de­tailed ev­i­dence and le­gal ar­gu­ments about whether the cur­rent law breaches Noel’s hu­man rights.”

Con­way’s lawyers will ask the courts to de­clare that the blan­ket ban on as­sisted dy­ing un­der the Sui­cide Act is con­trary to the Hu­man Rights Act. They will ar­gue that as a ter­mi­nally ill, men­tally com­pe­tent adult, his right to a pri­vate life – which in­cludes the right to make de­ci­sions on the end of his life – is un­nec­es­sar­ily re­stricted.

The case has been brought against the Min­istry of Jus­tice. Con­way is rep­re­sented by the law firm Ir­win Mitchell. Hu­man­ists UK, of which Con­way is a mem­ber, has been given per­mis­sion to in­ter­vene in the case. The aim is to bring about a change in the law that would le­galise as­sisted dy­ing for ter­mi­nally ill peo­ple as­sessed as hav­ing six months or less to live.

An­drew Cop­son, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Hu­man­ists UK, said: “It is com­pletely wrong that peo­ple who are of sound mind but ter­mi­nally ill or in­cur­ably suf­fer­ing are de­nied the choice to die with dig­nity.”

The last time a right to die case was con­sid­ered in de­tail by the courts was in 2014 when the supreme court asked par­lia­ment to re­con­sider the is­sue. Par­lia­ment de­bated the sub­ject but re­jected mak­ing any changes to the law.

Ear­lier this year, Con­way ex­plained why he was fight­ing the case: “I am go­ing to die, and I have come to terms with this fact … The op­tion of an as­sisted death should be avail­able to me, here in this coun­try, in my fi­nal six months of life – this is what I am fight­ing for. It would bring im­mense peace of mind and al­low me to live my life to the fullest, en­joy­ing my fi­nal months with my loved ones un­til I de­cide the time is right for me to go.”

Noel Con­way, 67, has mo­tor neu­rone dis­ease. His lawyers will ar­gue the ban on as­sisted dy­ing is con­trary to the Hu­man Rights Act

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