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‘Allowing Tony to die would be euthanasia’ - July-04-12
Source: The Times - Law
Tony Nicklinson, who suffers from “locked-in” syndrome, should not be helped to end his life, the peer calling for a change in the law on assisted dying said yesterday.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the former Lord Chancellor and former Justice Secretary, said that a line had to be drawn somewhere. “I fear he can’t be helped under my proposals,” he told The Times.
“It is very hard. But it is an important point of principle. Tony Nicklinson wants someone to be able to kill him. That would be euthanasia and I am not in favour of that. I am saying to him: I can’t agree to you being killed by someone else. And he is saying: you are condemning me to this awful life. But if one has got to construct a law, this is a reasonable position to adopt. Suicide has got to be the bottom of it.”
Lord Falconer, whose proposals for changing the law are published today, said that he had spoken to Mr Nicklinson, 58, and told him of his views. “He said to me, ‘You are condemning me to die’. But I feel there is real line of principle between suicide on the one hand and being killed on the other.”
People would not have confidence in such a law, he said. “They would be worried that they might be killed.”
Mr Nicklinson’s wife, Jane, said yesterday: “Tony takes the view: what is the point of Lord Falconer’s Commission on Assisted Dying if it is only going to help the terminally ill, who are going to die anyway?”
Lord Falconer and her husband had exchanged e-mails and the peer had visited to explain it personally. “It was perfectly polite,” she said, “but Lord Falconer couldn’t give Tony a satisfactory answer because there isn’t one.”
Lord Falconer’s comments come as the all-party Parliamentary Group on Choice at the End of Life, with the pressure group Dignity in Dying, publishes a draft Bill today. It is based on the recommendations of the Commission on Assisted Dying, which was chaired by Lord Falconer and reported in January.
Mr Nicklinson, from Wiltshire, is awaiting a High Court decision on whether doctors may lawfully be allowed to help him to end his life. He was left paralysed after a stroke seven years ago and cannot speak. The law stops him ending his own life as he cannot take the final step himself. He is seeking a declaration that a doctor who helped him to die would be immune from prosecution by being able to argue the defence of necessity. Mr Nicklinson also argues that the present law of assisted suicide and euthanasia is in breach of his rights to autonomy and dignity under the Human Rights Act.
Lord Falconer went on to say that he did not think that Mr Nicklinson’s argument could succeed. “He has argued: ‘I want to be killed and there is a defence of necessity.’ I don’t think that works as a matter of criminal law. It would amount to people who are ill being allowed to request that they be killed.”
The courts condoned the defence of necessity in 2000 in the landmark case of the conjoined twins Mary and Jodie, to enable doctors to operate and save one life rather than allow both to die.
Since then the Director of Public Prosecutions has set out factors that weigh against prosecution, replacing the law with uncertainty. Today’s draft Bill would enable a person who has a “firm and settled intention”, and the capacity, to be assisted to die, subject to the approval of two doctors. A doctor would supply life-ending medication.
More than 700 supporters will attend the launch event at Westminster, including the actress Zoë Wanamaker and the author Sir Terry Pratchett, both patrons of Dignity in Dying.
Lord Falconer, who will introduce the Bill after the consultation, said that public opinion had shifted since the last debate in the House of Lords three years ago. There was now far more prospect of parliamentary support, he said. The position of the British Medical Association was now neutral rather than opposed; and the public had become aware and engaged in the issues.
A spokesman from Care Not Killing said: “Parliament has debated this issue on numerous occasions. I suspect that the arguments which we have put forward around safety will continue to be unanswered.”
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