Tony Nicklinson – A Fight for Dignity

27 Aug

On Wednesday 22nd August Tony Nicklinson passed away with his family by his side.  My thoughts go out to them at this difficult time……

 

Tony’s Story……

Tony in Happier Times

Tony was happily married family man until he suffered a stroke at the age of 51.  As a result of the stroke he was left with ‘locked in syndrome’, a condition that left him paralysed and unable to speak.  He could only communicate by moving his eyes and blinking.  It is impossible to imagine being in Tony’s position but he made it perfectly clear how he felt.  This is how Tony described his life, in his own words:

“My life can be summed up as dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable… it is misery created by the accumulation of lots of things which are minor in themselves but, taken together, ruin what’s left of my life. Things like… constant dribbling; having to be hoisted everywhere; loss of independence…”

Feeling that he had no quality of life and knowing that there was no chance of his condition improving, Tony took the brave decision that he wanted to put a dignified end to his suffering.  Unfortunately, the British legal system makes no allowances for people like Tony, so his battle in the courts began……

The Law……

Assisted suicide is illegal under current UK legislation.  Numerous attempts have been made to change the law, by the introduction of new legislation and by individual cases in the High Court.  Between 2003 and 2006 Lord Jeffe made four attempts to introduce bills in the English Parliament that would have legalised assisted dying; all failed.  MSP Margo MacDonald brought the ‘End of Life Assistance Bill’ before the Scottish Parliament but this was also rejected.  Following a consultation the Director of Public Prosecutions published its findings on 25 February 2010.  It emphasised that the act of suicide requires a person to take their own life.  To assist in any way constitutes murder or manslaughter (This precedence has yet to be tested in the courts).  Tony’s case was brought on the basis that he had lost the autonomy and dignity that his legal team claimed are guaranteed under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act.  The court ruled against him.  A ruling that caused Tony a great deal of distress.

The importance of sensible legislation in cases like Tony’s can not be understated.  Due to his condition, even if the Barbiturates required to end ones life peacefully were available or a person was able to ‘stockpile’ enough Morphine to achieve the same goal, because a third party would have to administer them, under the current legislation they would potentially face charges of murder or manslaughter.  There is also a grey area regarding organisations such as Dignitas, based in Switzerland.  Although assisted dying is legal in Switzerland, it could be argued that helping a person to travel there with the intention of ending their life constitutes an offence under UK law……

The Argument Against Assisted Dying……

I have never heard what I consider a reasonable argument against assisted dying.  The core of the ‘pro-lifers’ argument appears to revolve around the thesis that if the law permitted assisted dying there would be a ‘tidal wave’ of suicides within the group of people who, like Tony, could not carry out the act unassisted and, that pressure from family members and carers would push people into choosing euthanasia.  This argument holds little, if any, credibility.  Firstly, the person must be ‘of sound mind’ and able to adequately convey their wish to die, precluding anybody with a mental impairment.  Secondly, the checks and balances which could be put in place through legislation should make coercion highly improbable.  Finally, in countries which have made assisted dying legal, there is no evidence that the ‘tidal wave’ suggested by opponents will appear……

Public Opinion……

In February 2010 the BBC’s Panorama program commissioned two independent polls on the subject of assisted dying:

ComRes found 73% of people thought that a family member or close friend should be able to assist the suicide of someone with a “painful illness or condition from which they will die” if they were physically incapable of doing so themselves. The figures were also identical when they asked if the law should allow a medical professional to do the same – 74% agreed.

YouGov’s questions did not explore the difference in opinion depending upon whether illness were terminal or not, but they found a similar overall level of support for assisted suicide. 75% thought the law should be amended to allow “some people, such as doctors and/or close relatives to assist a suicide in particular circumstances”, and 67% thought that doctors should have the “legal power to end the life of a terminally ill patient who has given a clear indication of the wish to die.”

These results are echoed in similar poles conducted over the past few years and clearly demonstrate public opinion.  Why our politicians continue to ignore the views of the electorate is a mystery but not a surprise……

The Status Quo……

The issue of assisted dying will continue to make headlines when cases like Tony Nicklinson’s reach the High Court.  Unfortunately, for every case that makes the news there are many, many more that do not.  Some because the person involved has neither the means, nor the emotional energy to fight.  Some because they feel the process is futile.  Whatever the reason, the current law is unhelpful, uncaring and cruel, prolonging the suffering of people who have already suffered more than most of us can conceive……

And Finally……

If Tony had the choice he would have taken a large dose of Barbiturates, fallen into a deep sleep and passed away peacefully, which was his wish.  In reality he contracted pneumonia and, whilst the doctors caring for him would have done everything in their power to alleviate his suffering, he died a slow protracted death, causing unnecessary suffering to Tony and his loved ones……

The petition asking for a change in the law has been amended since Tony died.  Please sign it and help all those who are still suffering by clicking on the link below.

http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/tony-nicklinson-s-right-to-die-change-the-law

Dedicated to Tony Nicklinson – Rest in Peace……

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