Right-to-die fight 'will continue' despite Tony Nicklinson's death, say experts


The tireless efforts of right-to-die campaigner Tony Nicklinson and his supporters to fight for a change in the law will continue, experts have said.

Mr Nicklinson, 58, died at his home in Melksham, Wiltshire, this morning following a rapid deterioration in his health after contracting pneumonia over the weekend. He had suffered from locked-in syndrome following an accident in 2005 and wanted a doctor to be allowed to terminate his life.

Professor Penney Lewis, professor of law at the Centre of Medical Law and Ethics at King's College London, said today that Mr Nicklinson's plight would continue to raise questions about a change in the law, after being denied the right to die by High Court judges last week in a landmark ruling. But she said Parliamentarians seemed "disinclined" to address them.

Prof Lewis added: "He was directly challenging the law. I think he has quite a significant role in the history of legal challenges in this context.

"There have been very high-profile (right-to-die) campaigns, and Parliament seems disinclined to resolve them.

"There is a lot of speculation about why that is, and I think one reason almost certainly is that it is a divisive issue.

"If you're a parliamentarian in the House of Commons you have to think about when you are going to be standing for re-election, and taking a stand on such a divisive issue might well cost some votes."

Thousands of well-wishers took to social networking sites after news of Mr Nicklinson's death was announced.

Prof Lewis said: "I think most people in the aftermath of a death of someone who has been in our consciousness for a while are focused on the human aspect of the sadness of his death.

"I think a lot of people with that image in mind of him appearing so distressed after the decision at the High Court last week will be thinking about that."

Another man, known only as Martin, also lost his High Court case to end his life with medical help last week, after judges said it was up to Parliament to change the law.

Prof Lewis said there was still the possibility that Martin's challenge would continue.

Dr John Troyer, from the University of Bath's Centre for Death and Society, said there was likely to be a short-term spike in support for Mr Nicklinson's case, but he did not think it would be enough to promote a discussion among MPs.

He said: "I think his campaign will continue into the future. You might see, in the short-term, an uptake in support for it. That is not uncommon in these situations after a person dies.

"It is possible that it could make its way into the Commons. I think the greatest possibility lies if and when constituents bring this issue up with their MPs."

Asked if assisted dying was a taboo subject, Dr Troyer, a lecturer with the Department of Social and Policy Sciences, said: "We as a society do not (talk about it). There is not a daily discussion about the end of life.

"Not because people are too afraid of it or that it is too macabre. It is those things to a certain extent, it's just not something we're called upon to do."

He said the modern welfare state was "about keeping everyone alive", adding: "You rarely, if ever, hear any member of the Government saying, 'Right, now we're going to talk about how everyone's going to die'.

"Partly because if they did, everyone would think there was a pandemic getting ready to happen.

"What has prevented a change in the law is that it's easy to say, 'We'll deal with this later'.

"I am not cynical about this, but I do not see the law changing any time soon."

Paying tribute to Mr Nicklinson's determination, Dr Troyer added: "It is very rare to meet a person who couldn't in some way identify with what Tony Nicklinson was going through. Because he was so articulate in his state, and because his family was so supportive, it is difficult to avoid the arguments he made."


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