A 'few' should have help to die

Herald Series: Jane Nicklinson and Paul Lamb at the Supreme Court Jane Nicklinson and Paul Lamb at the Supreme Court

Some severely disabled people should be allowed help if they want to commit suicide, according to one of the most senior judges in the UK.

Lady Hale, deputy president of the Supreme Court, today said it would not be beyond the wit of law makers to devise a process which identified the "few" who should be allowed to have assistance.

She said the problem was ensuring that "vulnerable" people were not put under "undue pressures" to end their lives. But she said that problem was not sufficient to justify a "universal ban" on assisting suicide.

Lady Hale made her comments in a Supreme Court ruling on a right-to-die case brought by a paralysed former builder and the widow of man who had locked-in syndrome.

Paul Lamb and Jane Nicklinson, whose 58-year-old husband Tony died nearly two years ago, wanted the court - the highest in the UK - to rule that disabled people should have the right to be helped to die with dignity.

Nine justices, including Lady Hale and Supreme Court president Lord Neuberger, were asked to decide whether a prohibition on assisted suicide - outlined in the 1961 Suicide Act - was compatible with the right to respect for private and family life enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

They ruled against Mr Lamb and Mrs Nicklinson, both 58, by a seven-two majority, following a hearing in London.

But five of the nine justices concluded that the court had the "constitutional authority" to declare that a general prohibition on assisted suicide was incompatible with the human right to private and family life enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

And two of those five - including Lady Hale - said they would have made such a declaration.

Mr Lamb, who comes from Bramley, Leeds, was left paralysed after a road accident more than 20 years ago, and Mrs Nicklinson, from Melksham, Wiltshire, said the Supreme Court analysis was a positive step and had alerted MPs to a need for change.

"I am very proud of myself," said Mr Lamb. "I know it is going to change."

He said most people wanted a change in the law and added: "There is about 80% people in favour. Common people. They have got to be listened to."

Mrs Nicklinson added: "I am disappointed that we lost. But it is a very positive step. Parliament will have to discuss this. I think Tony would be very pleased at how far we have come."

Their solicitor, Saimo Chahal, said : "Whilst this is not exactly the result we were hoping for, and it does not provide an immediate remedy, it is nonetheless very welcome as we have succeeded in showing that the issue, despite the controversy surrounding it, is one that the courts can adjudicate on and indeed must, if Parliament does not take action soon to consider the plight of people like Paul."

Justices also dismissed a separate challenge by another disabled man, after analysing guidance given by Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions (DPP).

That issue had been raised by a disabled man who was identified only as ''Martin''.

He argued that a ''policy statement'' setting out ''public interest factors to be considered in the exercise of discretion to prosecute'' was an unlawful interference with the right to respect for private and family life.

His challenge was dismissed unanimously.

Lawyer Rosa Curling, from the human rights team at law firm Leigh Day, which represents Martin, said: "We welcome today's judgment as it clearly indicates that the DPP should now revise her policy.

"We await her new guidance and hope she will now make clear that those, family members or otherwise, who wish, out of a sense of compassion, to help those unable to help themselves, to end their lives, can now do so without real fear of prosecution."

Using an adapted computer operated by sight, Martin said in a statement: "Today's judgment takes me one step closer to being able to decide how and when I end my life. I welcome it for this reason.

"But this whole process has been excruciating, slow and tedious. I would implore the DPP to amend her written guidance as a matter of absolute priority.

"People in my situation, who have the right to choose how to end their lives, should be able get the assistance they need from people outside their family.

"The DPP has said as much to the court. She must now do the same to the public in general so there is no confusion."

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