Noel Conway: Terminally ill man loses High Court challenge against the law on assisted dying

Mr Conway says he is ‘deeply disappointed’ by judgment and ‘fully intends’ to appeal it

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 05 October 2017 16:17
Noel Conway (above, with his wife Carol) feels ‘entombed’ by his motor neurone disease and wished to get assistance from the medical profession to bring about a ‘peaceful and dignified’ death
Noel Conway (above, with his wife Carol) feels ‘entombed’ by his motor neurone disease and wished to get assistance from the medical profession to bring about a ‘peaceful and dignified’ death

A man who is terminally ill with motor neurone disease has lost his High Court challenge to fight for his right to die.

The judgment does confirm, however, that the courts do have the authority to declare current inconsistency with human rights.

Noel Conway, a grandfather and retired lecturer from Shrewsbury, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in November 2014 and is not expected to live beyond 12 months.

The 67-year-old, who did not attend London’s High Court on Thursday due to is health, said he felt “entombed” by his condition, and wished to get assistance from the medical profession to bring about a “peaceful and dignified” death.

The law as it stands means that anyone who helped him would be committing a criminal offence.

Mr Conway wanted a declaration that the Suicide Act 1961 is incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which relates to respect for private and family life, and Article 14, which protects from discrimination.

But Lord Justice Sales, Mrs Justice Whipple and Mr Justice Garnham rejected his case.

Mr Conway, supported by Dignity in Dying, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the judgment and “fully intends” to appeal it, urging that experiences of those who are terminally ill need to be heard.

“This decision denies me a real say over how and when I will die. I am told the only option I currently have is to effectively suffocate to death by choosing to remove my ventilator, which I am now dependent on to breathe for up to 22 hours a day,” he said.

“There is no way of knowing how long it would take me to die if I did this, or whether my suffering could be fully relieved. To me, this is not choice – this is cruelty.”

His solicitor Yogi Amin, partner and head of public law and human rights at Irwin Mitchell, said he would be supporting Mr Conway in making an appeal against the judgment, adding that assisted dying laws must change in line with medical advances.

“Today’s judgment is obviously disappointing and on behalf of Noel we will now seek permission to take the case to the Appeal courts,” he said.

“Noel would like the choice to be able to die with dignity. He 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.”

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, echoed his sentiment, saying: “Whilst we are disappointed with the judgment, it does confirm that the courts have the authority to declare the current law inconsistent with our human rights.

“Noel does not accept the death that the current law forces him to have, and neither do we, which is why Dignity in Dying will support Noel every step of the way to take this case on to the appeal courts.

“How can it be more ethical or safe for Noel to have his ventilation withdrawn under the current law, with no formal safeguards, than for him to request life-ending medication within the multiple safeguards proposed through his case? This is paradoxical.”

Other groups welcomed the ruling. Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “These cases are always emotive because all of us want to be kind in the face of human suffering.

“It is vital, however, that we do not lose sight of the key principles at stake, and the implications of any court decision on other people.

“It certainly wouldn’t be compassionate to allow any weakening of the protection that the current law provides.”

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