Noel Conway, pictured in July, has lost his High Court battle
A terminally-ill retired college lecturer said he faces ‘unbearable suffering and a traumatic, drawn out death’ after losing a High Court battle to ‘fight for choice at the end of life’.
Noel Conway, a 67-year-old grandfather from Shrewsbury, says he feels ‘entombed’ by motor neurone disease, which he was diagnosed with nearly three years ago.
When he has less than six months to live and retains the mental capacity to make the decision, he wishes to enlist a doctor to prescribe a lethal dose and bring about a ‘peaceful and dignified’ death.
His lawyers said his proposed change to the law would only apply to terminally ill adults with less than six months to live, who have a settled wish to die.
However judges at the High Court today dismissed his appeal, saying the law on suicide was compatible with the human rights of Mr Conway.
Speaking after the hearing, Mr Conway said the ‘cruel’ decision denies him a say over how and when he will die.
He added: ‘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.’
Noel Conway with his wife Carol and supporters outside Telford County Court in July
The 67-year-old grandfather has challenged the current law on assisted dying. He is pictured here outside the High Court in March with his wife and stepson Terry McCusker
Mr Conway, who did not attend London’s High Court today, 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.
ASSISTED SUICIDE: THE LAW
Section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961 concerns criminal liability for complicity in another’s suicide.
It states a person commits an offence if they carry out an act capable of encouraging or assisting the suicide or attempted suicide of another person, and the act was intended to encourage or assist suicide or an attempt at suicide.
Anyone convicted of such an offence could be jailed for 14 years.
The law as it stands means that anyone who helped Mr Conway to die would be committing a criminal offence.
The case was opposed by the Secretary of State for Justice, with Humanists UK, Care Not Killing and Not Dead Yet UK also making submissions.
But Lord Justice Sales, Mrs Justice Whipple and Mr Justice Garnham rejected his legal challenge.
The judges cited Section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961 in their ruling, which states a person commits an offence if they do ‘an act capable of encouraging or assisting the suicide or attempted suicide of another person’, and it was intended.
They added: ‘We find that Section 2 is compatible with the Article 8 rights of Mr Conway. We dismiss his application for a declaration of incompatibility.’
Mr Conway (pictured outside the High Court in March) was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in November 2014 and is not expected to live beyond 12 months
The retired lecturer (pictured with his with his wife Carol in March) wanted a declaration that the Suicide Act 1961 is incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights
‘This decision denies me a real say over how and when I will die’
The 67-year-old said he was, ‘Deeply disappointed by the judgment’
Mr Conway said in a statement after the hearing: ‘I am deeply disappointed by today’s judgment and fully intend to appeal it. The 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.
‘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.
‘As I approach the end of my life, I face unbearable suffering and the possibility of a traumatic, drawn out death.
‘Travelling to Switzerland is no longer a viable option and I cannot put my family or doctors at risk of prosecution by asking for their help here at home.
‘Knowing I had the option of a safe, peaceful assisted death at a time of my choosing would allow me to face my final months without the fear and anxiety that currently plagues me and my loved ones.
‘It would allow me to live the rest of my life on my own terms, knowing I was in control rather than at the mercy of a cruel illness.
‘Throughout this case I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support the public has shown me. I know that this fight is important not just to me, but thousands of others.
‘I am undeterred by today’s decision and will appeal it with the support of my legal team and Dignity in Dying.’
Mr Conway, pictured with his wife Carol at their home in Shrewsbury in March, now hopes to appeal the decision
Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying which supported Mr Conway’s case, said: ‘Terminally ill people deserve to be listened to. They are, after all, the true experts on how they want to die.
SECOND RIGHT-TO-DIE BATTLE LOST
Mr Conway’s case was the first challenge to the existing law since the case of Tony Nicklinson.
Mr Nicklinson battled for two years to persuade judges at the High Court to rule that if, and when, he decides he wants to die, doctors will be immune from prosecution if they help him.
A victim of locked-in syndrome, Mr Nicklinson said he had been condemned by the law to ‘a life of increasing indignity and misery’.
The 58-year-old father of two from Melksham, Wiltshire, was mentally sound but paralysed from the neck down and unable to speak, following a severe stroke while on a business trip to Athens.
But his case was ultimately dismissed in June 2014 by the Supreme Court, which said it was a matter for Parliament to decide.
After debates in both Houses, Parliament decided not to provide for legislative exceptions to the 1961 Act.
Mr Nicklinson died in August, 2012.
‘Dying people in this country are being let down while the rest of the world moves on.
‘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.’
Mr Conway’s solicitor Yogi Amin added: ‘We will now seek permission to take the case to the Appeal courts.
‘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.’