A disabled British man with “locked-in” syndrome due to a stroke in 2005 is seeking a court order allowing his wife to kill him without fear of prosecution.
Tony Nicklinson, a 56 year-old engineer in Melksham, Wiltshire, is completely paralyzed and unable to speak. He communicates with the use of a Perspex board and letters, looking, blinking and nodding to spell out words. He said through his lawyers that he is “fed up with life” and does not wish to spend the next 20 years in this condition.
Under the current law, the lawyers said, the only way he could end his life was by withdrawal of food and water, but Nicklinson wants his wife Jane to be allowed to inject him with a lethal dose of drugs, something she has said she is prepared to do.
The legal team has launched a request of the Director of Public Prosecutions asking if Jane Nicklinson would be prosecuted for murder if she were to kill her husband at his own request.
Jane told the BBC that her husband wants the same “rights” as everyone else to commit suicide. “He wants to be able to take his own life at a time that he chooses,” she told the BBC. “He has no quality of life at all.”
“He just wants the same rights as everyone else. I mean, you or I can go out and commit suicide. He can’t. That right was taken away from him the day he had his stroke.”
Bindmans, the solicitors acting on his family’s behalf, however, did not mention “assisted suicide” in their statement, referring more forthrightly to changing the laws on homicide.
“Tony Nicklinson contends that the current law of murder, which prohibits in absolute terms all intentional killing, whatever the motive and regardless of the ‘victim’s’ wishes, constitutes an interference with his rights to respect for his private life under Article 8 (1) of the European Convention of Human Rights.
“He states that he is not depressed and he is not in need of counselling. He has had almost four years to think about his future, and he does not relish the prospect.”
The news has prompted criticism from a disability rights group which says that Nicklinson’s request will undermine the absolute value of human life in the law. Janet Thomas of No Less Human said, “The killing of vulnerable, innocent people, whether able-bodied or not, is never right, even when those people ask to be killed. The deliberate killing of any innocent person damages the interests of us all.”
“Mr. Nicklinson feels he wants to die because of his disabilities – as if human value and worth are to be measured by physical ability. Human worth lies not in what people can do but in what they inherently are. Each human life whether damaged or not whether a short one or a long one is a gift of incomparable value.”
Thomas said that disabled people can come to terms with their condition and have it improved with “positive help and support from family, friends and the community, and by a refusal to accept that there is any life which is worthless.”
“Society, through its laws against murder and assisted suicide, comes down in favour of life. Every time someone decides that there are lives not worth living, he or she damages the security of all of us.”
In September last year, Britain’s Director of Public Prosecutions announced that the assisted suicide law would not be enforced in cases where it was judged that a person acted out of “compassion” in helping a relative or loved-one who had indicated a “clear, settled and informed wish to commit suicide” to carry about that wish. The announcement followed a decision by the Law Lords, at the request of assisted suicide campaigner Debbie Purdie, that the law should be “clarified.”
The Care Not Killing Alliance warned at the time that the decision would threaten the lives of vulnerable disabled people, saying that they “reject the concept of a ‘compassionate homicide’ and we reject the concept that a person that assists the suicide of another person is acting in a compassionate manner.”
The massive positive publicity surrounding the Purdie case and numerous high profile cases in which public figures have committed suicide at the Dignitas facility in Switzerland, has shifted public opinion in favor of legalizing assisted suicide in Britain. In January, a YouGov poll found that four out of five respondents supported a change in the law.