Neil Conway was once again in the media in January following the Court of Appeal’s decision to allow his appeal from the High Court judgment given against him last October.
Mr. Conway’s request
Mr Conway has terminal Motor Neurone Disease. He fears that his quality of life will deteriorate and death, when it comes, will be undignified.
I do not wish to get to a stage where my quality of life is so limited, in the last six months of life, that I am no longer able to find any enjoyment in it… At some point, my breathing will stop altogether or I will become so helpless that I will be effectively entombed in my own body. I would not like to live like this. I would find it a totally undignified state for me to live in.
He asked for the right to be prescribed a fatal dose of medication that he could take when the time comes, subject to prescribed checks. But current law means that any medic prescribing such lethal medication would be assisting suicide, a criminal act.
Mr Conway is therefore seeking a ruling that the criminal law in this case contravenes his “right to respect for his private and family life” under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 8 allows a public authority to interfere with the exercise of this right in exceptional circumstances.
Who makes the law?
In the similar Nicklinson case in 2014 the courts concluded that Parliament, rather than judges, should define any legal exceptions to this human right. Yet subsequently when free votes have been taken on the issue of assisted suicide, in particular Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill, both Houses of Parliament have declined to make any changes to the existing laws. The High Court in the Conway case considered this relevant.
Judges also noted that there was considerable evidence that allowing assisted dying might put those who are ill or disabled under pressure to end their lives to relieve the burden on others. Moreover, elements of the medical community found the prospect of prescribing lethal medication to be in conflict with their duty of care.
The High Court decision*
Ethical and practical issues led the High Court to consider there were ‘powerful constitutional reasons’ why Parliament alone should assess whether Mr Conway’s right to respect for his private and family life is paramount. Parliament is also better placed, in its view, to assess the likely impact of any change in the law.
Now that the Court of Appeal has announced it will be looking afresh at the case, groups such as Humanists UK and Dignity in Dying hope that exceptions might be made for people who are in their final months of a terminal illness and have full mental capacity. As Noel Conway puts it:
“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.”
* See the full Law Report here
You can help your family know your wishes for end-of-life care are in your Lasting Power of Attorney for Health and Welfare.