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3:39pm UK, Tuesday June 19, 2012
A paralysed man, who is only able to communicate through blinking his eyes, would be condemned to ever increasing misery if judges fail to agree with his right to die, his lawyers have claimed.
Locked-in syndrome victim Tony Nicklinson has taken his fight against the current law on assisted suicide to the High Court in London.
The Wiltshire father of two has spent the past seven years unable to do more than blink or move his head slightly, since suffering a catastrophic stroke.
He communicates through a specially adapted computer, or through his wife holding up a plastic board with letters on it, which he blinks and nods at to spell out words.
Mr Nicklinson’s legal team told the court he is being condemned to live in a state of suffering and indignity by the current rules on assisted suicide and euthanasia.
A barrister representing the 58-year-old told the three judges hearing the case that he wanted a doctor to be able to lawfully end his life without fear of prosecution.
In courtroom three at the Royal Courts of Justice, Paul Bowen QC said Mr Nicklinson was not seeking to persuade the judges to “introduce an all-encompassing new regime legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide.”
The barrister added: “While he would welcome such a change, he accepts that such a regime can only be introduced by Parliament.
“However, there is no sign of Parliament introducing such a regime any time soon that would afford the claimant the opportunity of an assisted death with dignity.”
Mr Nicklinson maintained that in the absence of statutory regulation he is entitled to “remedy” from the court.
Mr Bowen said the current law was “anomalous and discriminatory” and had not stopped the “widespread practice of euthanasia but has forced it underground”.
During a four-day hearing Lord Justice Toulson, sitting with Mr Justice Royce and Mrs Justice Macur, will hear argument in a further “landmark” judicial review action brought by a man who suffered a “massive” stroke three years ago at the age of 43.
Mr Nicklinson suffers from locked-in syndrome
The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons but is referred to as Martin or AM, is unable to move, is able to communicate only by moving his eyes, requires constant care and is entirely dependent on others for every aspect of his life.
Mr Nicklinson suffered a catastrophic stroke in 2005 while on a business trip to Athens which left him paralysed below the neck and unable to speak.
Before the stroke Mr Nicklinson was a “very active and outgoing man”.
He describes having no “privacy or dignity left” and says that what he objects to is having his right to choose taken away from him.
Mr Nicklinson cannot be present for the hearing, but speaking before the proceedings began, his wife Jane, 56, said: “We are just really happy that the time has come for Tony to get heard in court and we’re just hoping for a good outcome.”
She acknowledged: “Whatever happens, there’s no happy endings in this one.”
Last week, Mr Nicklinson started posting messages on Twitter. Within hours he received many replies of sympathy and support, but others urged him to change his mind.
One wrote: “I do believe in miracles and will pray for you. God will heal you one day. God bless you, He loves you so very much.”
I would hate to see you depart this world without fully exploring all you can do.
Campaigner’s message on Twitter
Another wrote: “I would hate to see you depart this world without fully exploring all you can do.”
In response, Mr Nicklinson has said” “People want to know if I will change my mind beacause of Twitter. Let’s hear the judgement first and maybe I’ll tell you.”
Some campaign groups have expressed concern at the outspoken nature of some of the comments.
A spokesman for Dignity in Dying said they hoped Twitter users would be respectful of Mr Nicklinson, even if they do not agree with him.
The case differs to previous attempts to amend the law on assisted suicide, like the case of multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy, who won a clarification of prosecution policy where someone assists a terminally ill person to die.
Mr Nicklinson’s paralysis is so severe that he cannot simply be assisted to take his own life and he would have to be killed by someone.
Earlier this year, an independent commission on assisted dying concluded for the first time that certain people should be helped to die.
But this only applies to those who are terminally ill and are able to take the final action to end their lives themselves – which excludes Mr Nicklinson.