The right to die – whose choice is it?

August 29, 2012
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You may be familiar with the case of Tony Nicklinson, who recently took his fight for the right to legally end his life to the High Court. Mr Nicklinson suffered from locked-in syndrome having had a stroke in 2005. This meant that he was paralysed from the neck down.

He felt he was living a life with no dignity, which led him to bring a claim to the High Court to allow the defence of necessity to murder for a doctor who would help him to end his life. On 16th August 2012 the High Court dismissed Mr Nicklinson’s claim, thereby refusing him the right to die. The Court ruled that they could not make the decision sought by Mr Nicklinson. To do so, would result in major changes in the law governing Assisted Suicide, which was a matter to be determined by Parliament.

The right to die is an emotive topic surrounded by moral, ethical and legal issues. On the one hand, there is a person whose life has become such that they no longer wish to live. Respecting their human rights should arguably mean that they have the right to die. However, the impact of the current UK laws governing Assisted Suicide is that any person who assists in the termination of life will face prosecution for murder. Therefore, at present no person can lawfully seek assistance to terminate their life.

On the other hand, there is the concern that changes in the law could open the floodgates and a person could be assisted to kill themselves where they are not of sane mind, for instance. Whilst one would think it should be a person’s choice to terminate their life, the State at present has a huge part to play in this and ultimately, with the law as it stands, the decision is not that of the individual. It will remain to be seen what the future holds for this controversial subject. There is arguably scope for development in the law governing this area, however any changes need to be approached with caution and must have stringent safeguards in place.

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