Newly-appointed minister attacks assisted suicide law

 

The laws on assisted suicide have been criticised as "ridiculous" by a newly-promoted Health Minister.

Anna Soubry, who was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Department of Health in this week's reshuffle, called for greater "honesty" about when prosecutions would be brought for helping relatives to die and that the legislation needed to "evolve".

Her comments come after locked-in syndrome sufferer Tony Nicklinson died a week after he lost his legal bid to end his life with a doctor's help.

Ms Soubry said she was ambivalent about that case, and that a doctor should not be required to kill somebody.

"You can't say to a doctor or a nurse you can kill this person," she told The Times.

But she said that it was "appalling" that the terminally ill who needed help to end their lives had to go abroad.

"I think it's ridiculous and appalling that people have to go abroad to end their life instead of being able to end their life at home," she said.

"The rules that we have about who we don't prosecute allow things to happen but there's a good argument that we should be a bit more honest about it."

Assisted suicide carries a sentence of up to 14 years' imprisonment.

The highly contentious issue is in the spotlight again after Mr Nicklinson's death. His widow said today she would continue his fight to win a landmark ruling for the legal right to die.

Jane Nicklinson said she would appeal against a High Court decision made over her late husband because "nobody should have to suffer like Tony did".

Mr Nicklinson, 58, died a week after he lost his legal bid to end his life when he chose with a doctor's help.

The father of two had been refusing food and contracted pneumonia after he was left "crestfallen" by the court's decision. He died at his home surrounded by family on August 22.

Mrs Nicklinson, 56, said she hoped his campaign for a change in the law on assisted dying would continue in his memory.

She has decided to lodge an appeal herself as his widow and carer. The British Humanist Association has also applied to intervene in the case.

The announcement comes on the day Mr Nicklinson was required to lodge his application for permission to appeal against the court's judgment.

Mrs Nicklinson, from Melksham, Wiltshire, said: "I am delighted that I am able to continue what Tony started. I feel very strongly that this issue should be addressed.

"It is too late for Tony but I hope that we can now help those who find themselves in a similar position. Nobody should have to suffer like he did."

Mr Nicklinson was a keen sportsman until he was paralysed by a stroke while on a business trip to Athens in 2005.

The family's solicitor, Saimo Chahal, from Bindmans LLP, added: "Jane's application to take Tony's place in the claim is a strong and compelling one.

"It is evident from recent polls that around 70 per cent of the public consider that there should be a change in the law in this area.

"The case has very wide public significance which should be considered by the Court of Appeal and if necessary by the Supreme Court."

Three judges sitting at the High Court in London referred to the "terrible predicament" of Mr Nicklinson and described his case as "deeply moving and tragic".

But Lord Justice Toulson, Mr Justice Royce and Mrs Justice Macur unanimously agreed it would be wrong for the court to depart from the long-established legal position that "voluntary euthanasia is murder, however understandable the motives may be".

They said doctors and solicitors who encouraged or assisted another person to commit suicide were "at real risk of prosecution".

Mr Nicklinson had described his existence as "pure torture" and said he had been condemned to live in a state of suffering and indignity.

Following the High Court ruling on August 16 Mr Nicklinson was visibly distressed, sobbing in front of cameras while Mrs Nicklinson told reporters the ruling had left him "heartbroken".

His family later added that after receiving a draft of the judgment "the fight seemed to go out of him".

"I think he had raised his hopes so much - probably out of proportion. He said he hadn't been prepared for the emotional side of it for him and he was absolutely devastated," Mrs Nicklinson told the BBC.

"I don't think he would have wanted to keep going for too much longer. One of the last things he said to me was 'I'm already dead - don't mourn for me'.

"And it's true, we did. I think in some respects, seven years ago was harder than this because we did lose the old Tony."

A funeral was held for Mr Nicklinson last week. His family's lawyers said the private service was held in Mr Nicklinson's home county of Wiltshire, but did not provide any further details.

PA

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