‘Locked-in’ man in legal bid for help with suicide

A BRITISH man with “locked-in syndrome” who cannot move anything except his head and eyes launched legal proceedings yesterday to end his life.

Tony Nicklinson, 56, communicates with the use of a Perspex board and letters, looking, blinking and nodding to spell out words.

He is seeking clarification on the law to make sure that if he asks his wife Jane, 54, to take direct action so he can die, she will not be prosecuted for murder and be given a mandatory life sentence.

Nicklinson is unable to end his life without direct assistance – unless he starves and dehydrates himself to death.

His legal team wants a judicial review to clarify how the murder law applies in cases of mercy killing.

The proceedings come after new guidelines on assisted suicide were issued by Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer in February.

The new guidelines put greater emphasis on the motivation of the suspect, meaning cases against those who act with compassion are unlikely to be pursued.

“Right-to-die” campaigner Debbie Purdy, who has multiple sclerosis, won a ruling from Law Lords to clarify the law.

But whereas her case would come under assisted suicide, because she would be able to take the final action to end her life, Nicklinson’s case would come under murder, meaning a loved one who helped directly end his life would be prosecuted for murder.

The lawyers will argue the murder law does not have the flexibility to consider motivation and circumstance.

In a witness statement, Nicklinson, from Wiltshire, said: “I am a 56-year-old man who suffered a catastrophic stroke in June 2005 whilst on a business trip to Athens, Greece.

“It left me paralysed below the neck and unable to speak. I need help in almost every aspect of my life. I cannot scratch if I itch. I cannot pick my nose if it is blocked and I can only eat if I am fed like a baby – only I won’t grow out of it, unlike a baby.

“I have no privacy or dignity left. I am washed, dressed and put to bed by carers who are, after all, still strangers. I am fed up with my life and don’t want to spend the next 20 years or so like this.

“Am I grateful that the Athens doctors saved my life? No, I am not. If I had my time again, and knew then what I know now, I would have not called the ambulance but let nature take its course.”

In a letter before claim, his law firm Bindman said: “Mr and Mrs Nicklinson wish to know whether Mrs Nicklinson will be prosecuted for murder in the event that she were to assist her husband to end his life by taking active steps.

“There is, however, no guidance available setting out what factors you consider relevant in deciding whether it is in the public interest to bring a prosecution for murder in cases of ‘mercy-killing’ or euthanasia.

“We note the guidance that you have recently published setting out the factors that you consider relevant in deciding whether you will give your consent to a prosecution for assisted suicide under S 2(1) Suicide Act 1961.

“Among the factors that militate against a prosecution are that the victim has reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision to commit suicide, and the suspect was wholly motivated by compassion.

“We understand that this guidance does not apply to cases of euthanasia or mercy-killing. However, we suggest that these factors are just as relevant to the decision to prosecute an individual for murder as they are to cases of assisted suicide.”

The legal team will argue that the murder law interferes with Nicklinson’s right to respect for his private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The Nicklinsons celebrated their 24th wedding anniversary yesterday. They have two daughters, Lauren, 22, and Beth, 20, who both live at home.

Mr Nicklinson suffered the stroke while working for a Greek civil engineering company based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

He spends his days writing his memoirs and watching TV, with carers helping him to shower and dress. His food is mashed into a fluid and fed through a tube.

Jane Nicklinson said: “The fact that Tony is unable to speak is hideous. Rugby is his passion and he was always the life and soul of the party so the fact that it is so difficult to communicate is extremely frustrating.

“He does not feel he has any quality of life and wants the right which everyone else has to decide when to end it. He will not ask me to help him, or anyone else to help him, if he thinks they will be prosecuted for murder.”


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