'Truly selfless' terminally ill man to fight on against assisted-dying law

'Truly selfless' terminally ill man to fight on against assisted-dying law

A "truly selfless" motor neurone disease sufferer has vowed to fight to continue his battle against the law on assisted dying.

On Thursday retired college lecturer Noel Conway was refused permission to bring a judicial review.

Mr Conway, 67, from Shrewsbury, was diagnosed in November 2014 and is not expected to live beyond the next 12 months.

His lawyers told the High Court that when he had less than six months to live, and while he retained the mental capacity to make the decision, "he would wish to be able to enlist assistance to bring about a peaceful and dignified death".

At present there is a blanket prohibition on providing a person with assistance to die.

Mr Conway was seeking a declaration that the Suicide Act 1961 is incompatible with Article 8, which relates to respect for private and family life, and Article 14, which protects from discrimination.

But two out of three judges hearing his case in London ruled that it was not arguable.

Mr Conway, who was not in court, said later: "Though this is a setback in my fight for rights at the end of my life, I will not be deterred and will be appealing this decision.

"I am fighting for choice and control over my death, because the current ban on assisted dying denies me these rights and forces me to face an unacceptable set of options that most people would balk at in disbelief.

"I am going to die, and I have come to terms with this fact. But what I do not accept is being denied the ability to decide the timing and manner of my death.

"I am not prepared to suffer right to the end, nor do I want to endure a long, drawn out death in a haze of morphine.

"The only alternative is to spend thousands of pounds, travel hundreds of miles and risk incriminating my loved ones in asking them to accompany me to Dignitas.

"This would also force me to die earlier than I would want.

"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."

Lord Justice Burnett who, with Mr Justice Jay, refused permission - while Mr Justice Charles dissented - described Mr Conway's stance as "truly selfless".

The proceedings came in the wake of an action brought by Tony Nicklinson, who suffered from paralysis after a stroke.

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

Lord Justice Burnett said it remained "institutionally inappropriate" for a court to make a declaration of incompatibility, whatever its personal views of how the underlying policy issues should be resolved.

Had Parliament done nothing after the Nicklinson case, Mr Conway's case for permission would be "unanswerable", however it might fare on further investigation.

But, both the House of Commons and the House of Lords had debated the matter, with the result that Parliament had decided, at least for the moment, not to provide for legislative exceptions to the 1961 Act.

He added: "My conclusion does nothing to diminish the deep sympathy I feel for Mr Conway, his family and others who are confronted with the reality of living and dying with incurable degenerative conditions such as motor neurone disease.

"Mr Conway's position in these proceedings is truly selfless because, as (his counsel) Mr Gordon recognises, even if the Supreme Court were to make - or uphold - a declaration of incompatibility assuming the swiftest progress of the litigation imaginable, the settled position of both Government and official opposition is that any change in the law must await a Private Member's Bill which commands support in both Houses.

"All current indications are that such a Bill would struggle to pass.

"Whatever the position in the courts, any change in the law seems unlikely in the foreseeable future."

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, which supports Mr Conway's case, said: "Parliament has so far ignored the pleas of dying people like Noel and the overwhelming majority of the public who also support a change in the law on assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent adults in their final six months of life.

"And that is precisely why we will continue to fight for it."

Yogi Amin, of law firm Irwin Mitchell, said: "The world has changed phenomenally in the past few decades with many medical advances, but the law on assisted dying for those who are terminally ill hasn't changed for more than 50 years."

He added: "This situation is clearly traumatic for the individuals involved and their families who are often torn between not wanting to see their loved one suffer and also not wanting to lose them, and we commend Noel for his bravery in bringing this important legal case."

ends

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