In his application to the High Court demanding the right to die, 57-year-old Tony Nicklinson – who suffers from "locked-in syndrome" and can communicate only by blinking – listed the minutiae of his indignity: he can't scratch an itch, nor clear his own nose and must be fed like a baby. A stroke in 2005 destroyed his upper brain stem, ending control of his motor functions but leaving his higher mental functions intact.
He is arguing that his right to life under Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention effectively includes a right to ask for his life to be ended humanely at a time of his choosing. The court has ruled that he can continue with his legal case. But with Ministry of Justice lawyers insisting such a ruling would change murder laws, his prospects of success are limited. Change will come only if Parliament makes time for a full consideration of the issues his case raises. MPs must do that. As Mr Nicklinson's wife said yesterday, it is no longer acceptable for 21st-century medicine to be governed by 20th-century attitudes to death.