07:26, November 22 59 0 theguardian.com

2018-11-22 07:26:04
Let terminally ill man choose when he dies, supreme court told

A retired lecturer who is paralysed from the neck down by progressive motor neurone disease should be able to preserve his personal dignity by choosing the time of his death, the supreme court has been told.

In an emergency appeal for permission to bring Noel Conway’s case before the UK’s highest court, his lawyers argued the 1961 Suicide Act, which criminalises anyone assisting a death, is incompatible with his human rights.

Three justices – Lady Hale, the supreme court president, Lord Reed, the deputy president, and Lord Kerr – are considering whether to hold a full hearing into the right-to-die case after the court of appeal rejected his request on the grounds that it was an issue for parliament. The supreme court is expected to give its decision in the coming days.

At the hour-long hearing on Thursday, the court was told another tetraplegic patient, Paul Lamb, who has been paralysed below his neck since a car accident nearly 30 years ago, is seeking to join his application to the supreme court.

Lord Pannick QC, representing Conway, told the court: “This is a question of whether it’s a breach of his human rights to impose a blanket ban [on assisting death] …

“Noel Conway contends that because of the need to respect autonomy and dignity, [the government] must show compelling justification for preventing someone with full mental capacity from receiving assistance to end their life. He recognises that there’s a balance to be struck in the need to protect the vulnerable.”

If someone with full mental capacity has a settled view, makes an informed decision and is expected to live for less than six months, Pannick said, they should be allowed to receive assistance to die. The concept of a terminally ill patient expected to die within six months already exists in section 82 of the 2012 Welfare Reform Act, he pointed out.

The government has argued modern palliative care allows some patients to die if they withdraw from artificial ventilation that is keeping them alive. But Pannick said such a death “could last only a few minutes, but in some cases hours and other cases days”. It would induce a “drowning sensation” and would not constitute a dignified end, he added.

Sir James Eadie QC for the Ministry of Justice told the court Conway is on ventilation 23 hours a day. Advances in palliative care could help those on ventilation to end their lives, he said.

The decision on whether section two of the Suicide Act is compatible with human rights is a matter for parliament, not the courts, Eadie added. Parliament has repeatedly considered the issue and decided not the change the law.

“A significant preponderance of medical opinion is against these proposed changes to the act,” he said, adding that the UK is not out of line with regulations in most other European countries. “There’s only two or three countries that permit assistance in some respect,” Eadie said.

Before the hearing, Yogi Amin, a solicitor with the law firm Irwin Mitchell, who also represents Conway, said he is paralysed from the neck down. “He’s still eating and drinking and thinks he has a good quality of life, but he wants to have control and have a choice at the end,” Amin said.

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