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Right to die man to appeal to Parliament

After legal challenges fail Noel Conway says MPs must introduce new laws

Mark Gould

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

The terminally ill man who has lost a lengthy legal battle at the UK's highest court over his right to die, says he will go back to Parliament in an effort to change the law on assisted dying.

Noel Conway, 68, suffers from motor neurone disease and only has movement in his right hand, head and neck. The former lecturer from Shrewsbury lost a challenge at the Court of Appeal in June after his case was rejected by the High Court.

Yesterday, Supreme Court judges rejected his bid to appeal against the ruling, deciding that his chance of success was "not sufficient". It means Mr Conway's case cannot proceed any further. In a joint statement issued at a hearing in London the judges, Lady Hale, Lord Reed and Lord Kerr, said they had reached their decision "not without some reluctance".

However, the court ruled Mr Conway's chances of a successful appeal were not sufficient "to justify our giving him permission to pursue it, with all that that would entail for him, for his family, for those on all sides of this multi-faceted debate, for the general public and for this court".

The judges said it was open to them to declare the current law was incompatible with the convention, and leave it to Parliament to decide what to do about it. But the judges took into consideration the overwhelming vote by MPs three years ago, to reject proposals to allow assisted dying. Ultimately, while judges are there to interpret the law, it is only Parliament which can make them.

In a statement, issued via the campaign group Dignity in Dying, which is campaigning for a change in the law, Mr Conway, said it is "barbaric" that he must choose between "unacceptable options" to end his life.

Mr Conway, who was too ill to attend the hearing, said his only option is to remove his ventilator, which he relies on 23-hours a day.

He said the ruling was "extremely disappointing", adding it is "downright cruel" to be refused a right to die.

"The only option I currently have is to remove my ventilator and effectively suffocate to death under sedation," he said. "To me this is not acceptable."

Instead, he wants medical assistance to die when he has less than six months to live, while he still has the mental capacity to make a "voluntary, clear, settled and informed" choice. 

Mr Conway argued the current law is an unjustifiable interference with the right to respect for private life under the European Convention on Human Rights. “This is the end of the road for my case, so we must now turn our attention back to Parliament. I hope that MPs will listen to the vast majority of their constituents and give people like me a say over our deaths," he added.

Sarah Wootton, chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said: “Not only does today’s decision let down dying people, it lets Parliament off the hook. When more than 80% of the British public want to see a change in the law on assisted dying, and when countries like the USA, Canada and Australia can all craft compassionate, safe laws to allow their citizens this choice, we must ask why the UK is being left behind. Our current laws on assisted dying are outdated, unclear and unsafe. They allow assisted dying for those who can afford it or who are well enough to travel to Switzerland, but deny choice to the many more who want to die in their own homes, with their friends and family around them.

“We will now turn our attention back to Parliament and demonstrate to our MPs the strength of feeling on assisted dying. Last time around, MPs failed in their duty to represent the views of their constituents. Next time, we hope they will stand up for a safer, more compassionate law that benefits dying people.”

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