The Two-Way
2:12 pm
Mon March 12, 2012

British High Court Will Hear Right-To-Die Case

Tony Nicklinson wants to die.

Except he can't commit suicide because he has "locked-in syndrome," which means his mind works fine but everything below his neck is paralyzed. A 2005 stroke left the 57-year-old unable to speak and he communicates largely by blinking. His case has been making headlines in Britain because the man wants a court to OK a doctor to end what he calls his "dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable" life.

Today, the country's high court said it would hear his case.

The Guardian reports:

Monday's ruling by Mr Justice Charles followed an application by the Ministry of Justice for the case to be struck out on the grounds that Nicklinson's plea was a matter for parliament rather than the courts.

But the judge allowed most of Nicklinson's action to proceed, ruling that he had an "arguable" case to go before a full court. After the ruling Nicklinson's wife, Jane, a former nurse, read out a statement from her husband on BBC Radio 5 Live.

It said: "I'm delighted that the issues surrounding assisted dying are to be aired in court. Politicians and others can hardly complain with the courts providing the forum for debate if the politicians continue to ignore one of the most important topics facing our society today.

"It's no longer acceptable for 21st-century medicine to be governed by 20th-century attitudes to death."

The AP reports that since 2009, the British government has tolerated assisted suicide for the terminally ill. But that puts Nicklinson in a gray area because he is not terminally ill and he could not administer the drugs himself.

The AP adds this bit on Nicklinson's legal case:

"Nicklinson argued that British law hindered his right to 'private and family life' — guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights — on the grounds that being able to choose how to die is a matter of personal autonomy.

"'The decision to go to a hearing is quite a small step, but what's tremendously significant is what Tony Nicklinson is asking for,' said Emily Jackson, a law professor at the London School of Economics. 'Normally, it would be for Parliament to make any change to the law on murder, so it would be a very, very big deal for the court to make a change like this.'"

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.