A former builder who is now paralyzed and the widow of a man who suffered from locked in syndrome lost their right-to-die fight at Britain’s Supreme Court on June 25th. However, they said they were hopeful that change would eventually come through.
Judges at the Supreme Court ruled against Jane Nicklinson and Paul Lamb’s appeal by a seven-two majority after a hearing was held in London. The two had asked the court to allow disabled people the right to die with dignity.
“I am disappointed that we lost. But it is a very positive step. Parliament will have to discuss this. I think Tony would be very pleased at how far we have come,” said Nicklinson from Melksham, Wiltshire, whose husband Tony died aged 58 in 2012 after starting the legal battle.
Nine justices were given the responsibility to decide whether a ban on assisted suicide is compatible with the right to family and private life outlined in the European Convention of Human Rights. Five of the nine judges said the court has the constitutional authority to say that a general ban on assisted suicide is not compatible with the human right to family and private life and two others said they would have concluded the same. However, both Lamb and Nicklinson said the conclusion is a positive step in the fight for change.
“I am very proud of myself. I know it is going to change,” said Lamb from Bramley, Leeds, who was left paralyzed after a road accident more than 20 years ago.
The Supreme Court made its judgment six months after hearing the plea in December 2013. The judges also dismissed a separate plea by another disabled man Martin, who argued that a policy statement wanting public interest factors to be taken into consideration in the exercise of discretion to prosecute, unlawfully interfered with the right to respect for family and private life. However, Martin’s challenge was dismissed unanimously.
Andrea Williams of Christian Concern, an organization that aims to introduce a Christian voice into law, said the ruling secured many vulnerable people who would have otherwise been at risk had the law on assisted suicide and euthanasia been supported by the Supreme Court.
“The murder law is there to set the highest priority on the importance and value of life and to protect it. While we have immense compassion for the Nicklinsons, Paul Lamb and Martin, their individual requests to end their lives by medical intervention would have been disproportionate to the safety of many. Parliament needs to continue to resist the repeated attempts by a small and determined lobby group to legalise assisted suicide. The issue has been comprehensively aired over many years in parliament and bills to introduce it have been resoundingly rejected. Parliament should continue to make clear the paramount importance of the protection and value of life for the most vulnerable in our society,” she said.
Richard Hawkes from Scope, a disability charity, also believes that the ruling will reassure many disabled people as it counters the perception that those who are disabled are only a burden on society and ought not to live.
“We are deeply concerned that a change in the law will lead to disabled people feeling under pressure to end their lives. Why is it that when people who are not disabled want to commit suicide, we try to talk them out of it, but when a disabled person wants to commit suicide, we focus on how we can make that possible? Many disabled people strongly oppose a change in the law,” asserted Hawkes.