Tony Nicklinson loses 'right-to-die' case

Tony Nicklinson
Tony Nicklinson has 'locked-in' sydrome Photo: ITV West

Tony Nicklinson has lost his right-to-die case.High Court judges told him today his doctors will not be free from prosecution if they help him to die - even if that's what he wants. The 58-year-old father of two from Melksham in Wiltshire has been paralysed since he suffered a stroke seven years ago.

He can't walk, talk, he spends his life in a chair in his bedroom. His only way of communicating is by blinking at his eyelid-recognition computer - or blinking at a letter-board held by his wife Jane. He spells out every word he means to say with his eyes.Mr Nicklinson says his life has no dignity. He can do nothing for himself.

But from his chair he has been attempting to change the definition of 'murder'.As he has so-called 'locked-in' syndrome he is unable to take his own life as able-bodied people are. He needs a doctors to help him to die.

But under current laws that doctor could then face murder charges.His High Court case has gone further than previous challenges to laws in England and Wales. Despite losing today's case, Mr Nicklinson is undeterred. He will appeal the ruling.

Tony Nicklinson
Tony Nicklinson can only communicate through blinking Credit: ITV West

Today's judgment in the Nicklinson case effectively puts the matter back in the politicians' court. The High Court ruling says that changing the law on murder is for Parliament, not the courts.

They have also dismissed his claim that his current suffering breaches his human rights under Article 8 of the European Convention, which deals with privacy.

The murder issue was the most contentious. Currently there are circumstances in the Benelux countries where doctors can escape prosecution for terminating a patient's life. Tony Nicklinson's lawyers were arguing for a similar exemption in his case, based on the defence of so-called "necessity" - that relieving unbearable suffering is a "necessary" act, overriding the normal duty to protect life.

The only comparable case concerned Siamese twins in 2001, when judges did allow them to be separated, even though it was likely one would die, in order to save the other. The judges, who incidentally viewed a Channel Four documentary about Tony Nicklinson, examined this case before rejecting the ethical comparison.

The ruling will be welcomed by right-to-life campaigners, and some disability groups, who worried that if doctors are allowed to kill patients - particularly those like Tony who are not terminally ill, it would put pressure on other vulnerable people to seek the same course rather than be a burden on their families.

In other words, the law stays where it is. The Director of Public Prosecutions' guidelines still mean that it is unlikely that anyone helping a loved one to die (eg taking them to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland) would be put on trial, if motivated by compassion.

But Tony wants a doctor to put him to death - and that, say the judges, would be a step too far.