Terminally ill man to take assisted dying case to UK’s top court

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Jun 28, 2018
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Noel Conway says that he feels “entombed” by motor neurone disease

Tom Pilston for The Times

A man with motor neurone disease is to take his assisted dying case to the Supreme Court after appeal judges dismissed his challenge against a “blanket ban” on the practice.

Noel Conway, 68, a retired lecturer from Shrewsbury, said that he now faced “barbaric” choices after losing a long legal battle for the right to a “peaceful and dignified” death.

He wants help to die when he has less than six months left to live, still has the mental capacity to make the decision and has made a “voluntary, clear, settled and informed” decision.

Conway, who says that he feels “entombed” by his illness, has proposed that he could only receive assistance to die if a High Court judge determined that he met all three criteria.

His case was rejected by the High Court in October last year but he challenged the ruling at a hearing in May.

However, yesterday three senior judges — the Master of the Rolls, Sir Terence Etherton, Sir Brian Leveson and Lady Justice King — rejected his application.

In a summary of the decision, Sir Terence said that parliament was better placed than the court to determine the “necessity and proportionality of a blanket ban”.

He added that Conway’s proposed scheme had been shown to be “inadequate to protect the weak and vulnerable” and failed to give enough weight to the “significance of the sanctity of life and to the scheme’s potential to undermine trust and confidence as between doctors and patients”.

The judge said: “From the outset, we emphasise our great respect for him [Conway] and for the dignity and courage which he has shown.”

Conway, who is supported by the campaign group Dignity in Dying, was too unwell to travel to London for the 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.

He cites his current options as to “effectively suffocate” by choosing to remove his ventilator or spend thousands travelling to Switzerland to end his life and have his family risk prosecution.

His appeal was opposed by the justice secretary, with Humanists UK, Care Not Killing and Not Dead Yet UK also making submissions.

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said: “Although we are disappointed, this outcome was anticipated and we remain undeterred. The assisted dying debate should have at its very core the voices of terminally ill people like Noel, the real experts in death and dying.

“Because our government has so far failed to do so, Noel is being forced to spend his final months fighting in the courts for his fundamental rights.”

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