LONDON — In a case that challenges Britain's definition of murder, a judge ruled Monday that a severely disabled man who wants a doctor to kill him will be granted a hearing.
It is the first euthanasia case of its kind to be allowed a hearing in a British court.
Tony Nicklinson (pictured), 57, suffered a paralyzing stroke in 2005 that left him unable to speak or move below his neck. The former rugby player and corporate manager requires constant care and communicates largely by blinking, although his mind has remained unaffected. In January, Nicklinson asked the High Court to declare that any doctor who gives him a lethal injection with his consent won't be charged with murder.
"I have no privacy or dignity left," Nicklinson said in a statement. "I am fed up with my life and don't want to spend the next 20 years or so like this."
The ministry of justice argued that granting Nicklinson's request would require changing the law on murder and that such changes must be made by Parliament. The government had applied to have the case dismissed.
In his ruling, Justice William Charles said Nicklinson was "now inviting the court to cross the Rubicon" and that his case had "an arguable base."
Nicklinson argued that British law hindered his right to "private and family life" – guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights – on the grounds that being able to choose how to die is a matter of personal autonomy.
"The decision to go to a hearing is quite a small step, but what's tremendously significant is what Tony Nicklinson is asking for," said Emily Jackson, a law professor at the London School of Economics. "Normally, it would be for Parliament to make any change to the law on murder, so it would be a very, very big deal for the court to make a change like this."
Nicklinson's wife, Jane, says the only way to end her husband's suffering was to kill him.
"A life like this is unbearable for him," she said. "We know there are doctors out there that would do this if it is made legal."
A recent British commission headed by a former justice secretary concluded there was a strong case for allowing assisted suicide under strict criteria. The commission was set up and funded by advocates who want the current law changed. The report did not support euthanasia and recommended assisted suicide only be allowed for terminally ill people, which would exclude Nicklinson.
In 2009, the British government's top prosecutor said people who helped terminally ill relatives and friends die were unlikely to be charged if they acted out of compassion.
In Europe, only Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland allow euthanasia.
Penney Lewis, a law professor at King's College London, said the U.K. had become more receptive to allowing assisted suicide in recent years but not euthanasia.
"Granting Nicklinson a hearing does not mean euthanasia will be allowed, but it is a big step," she said.
In 2010, Kay Gilderdale was found not guilty of the attempted murder of her severely disabled daughter. Gilderdale admitted she had tried to kill her daughter, who had repeatedly asked to die.
Monday, March 12, 2012
In case that challenges Britain's definition of murder, judge rules that severely disabled man who wants doctor to kill him will be granted hearing
The Huffington Post:
Posted by BA Haller at 1:29 PM