Noel Conway: Terminally ill man wins right to challenge court ruling preventing 'dignified death'

Retired lecturer fighting for judges to declare ban on assisted suicide incompatible with human rights laws

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 18 January 2018 12:26
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Noel Conway has won the right to continue his legal fight over his wish for a ‘peaceful and dignified’ death
Noel Conway has won the right to continue his legal fight over his wish for a ‘peaceful and dignified’ death

A terminally ill man has won the right to continue battling for the right to a “peaceful and dignified death” in Britain’s courts.

Noel Conway, a 68-year-old retired lecturer from Shrewsbury, says he feels “entombed” by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a form of motor neurone disease, which was diagnosed more than three years ago.

He wants to be able to legally undergo assisted suicide with the help of medical professionals when he has less than six months left to live and the mental capacity to make the decision himself.

Last year, the Court of Appeal ruled that Mr Conway can contest a High Court ruling against him.

Sir Ernest Ryder and Lord Justice Underhill granted Mr Conway a full hearing at the Court of Appeal, saying: “Having given the matter the consideration that we have, we believe it appropriate to give permission.”

The High Court previously rejected his request for a declaration that the Suicide Act 1961 is incompatible with parts of the European Convention on Human Rights that protect against discrimination and guarantee the respect for private and family life.

Mr Conway said he was “deeply disappointed” at the time and vowed to fight on.

Mr Conway’s supporters say the UK must stop ‘outsourcing death’ to firms like Dignitas abroad (Getty)

“I have accepted that my illness will rob me of my life, but how it ends should be up to me,” he said after Thursday’s court victory. “Why should I have to endure unbearable suffering and the possibility of a traumatic, drawn-out death when there is an alternative that has been proven to work elsewhere?

“To have the choice of an assisted death in my final months would allow me to enjoy the rest of my life in peace, without fear and worry hanging over me.”

Mr Conway, who was not well enough to attend the hearing, said he was fighting the court battle “on behalf of all terminally ill people who believe they should have the right to die on their own terms”, adding: “Our voices deserve to be heard.”

The case was opposed by the Justice Secretary and submissions were made by Care Not Killing and Not Dead Yet UK.

Humanists UK made a submission in support of Mr Conway, and he was also backed by the campaign group Dignity in Dying, which claimed there was a “public appetite for change” to the current law forcing people to travel abroad.

Chief executive Sarah Wootton said: “Upholding the current ban on assisted dying denies dying people like Noel a real say over how and when they will die and ignores the clear failings in the current law.

“Noel may no longer have the strength to go to Switzerland for an assisted death and in any case, he should not have to put his family at risk of prosecution by helping him get there.

“Currently his only option is to refuse use of the ventilator he relies on to breathe for 22 hours a day, and suffocate to death. How can this be more ethical or safe, with no formal safeguards, than for Noel to request life-ending medication within the multiple safeguards proposed through his case?”

Ms Wootton insisted that courts should use their power to declare the law incompatible with human rights legislation to prevent “outsourcing death” to firms like Dignitas.

Mr Conway’s solicitor, Yogi Amin of Irwin Mitchell, said the legal challenge would target the current blanket ban on assisted suicide.

He added: “Noel has proposed a new legal framework with safeguards in place of the current blanket ban on assisted dying.

“The world has changed phenomenally in the past few decades with many medical advances but the law on assisted dying for those who are terminally ill hasn’t changed for more than 50 years.”

Additional reporting by PA

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