Man with Motor Neurone Disease challenges UK ban on assisted dying

Terminally ill Noel Conway challenges 1961 Suicide Act in 'right to die' case at High Court

High Court to hear Noel Conway’s claim that 1961 Suicide Act breaches his human right to a ‘dignified death’.

This week, Noel Conway, a man with incurable motor neurone disease, who is not expected to live beyond the next 12 months takes his legal fight to the High Court. His aim is to prompt a change in the law that would allow him a dignified death at a time of his own choosing. 

Mr Conway seeks a declaration that the Suicide Act 1961 is incompatible with Article 8, which relates to respect for private and family life, and Article 14, which protects from discrimination. His case is supported by the campaign group Dignity in Dying and is expected to be heard over five days at the High Court. His intention is that when he has less than six months to live and retains the mental capacity to make the decision, he wishes to be able to enlist assistance to bring about a "peaceful and dignified" death.

"I can't change what's going to happen, I'm going to die anyway," explained Mr Conway. "I believe it is possible to change the law so that vulnerable people can be protected whilst at the same time allowing those who are terminally ill, who are fully aware of what they're doing, to control and manage the final days of their life humanely and with dignity. It has to be a fundamental human right."

"I strongly believe that we should all have the right to control our lives and especially the means and manner of our death."

"I'm aware of the ferocious opposition to any change in the law by disability groups, though not necessarily by disabled people themselves. I cannot accept their view that a law permitting assisted dying is some how an attack on disabled people. For the past two years, I have been disabled myself and share the frustrations of being disabled in a society, which begrudgingly tries to accommodate disability." 

Mr Conway has documented his beliefs on assisted dying and why he seeks a change in the law in this short video

The debate around assisted dying is hugely emotive, polarising opinion between those who feel our society should allow the terminally ill the choice to decide when to die and those who feel this is sanctioning suicide and endangering the vulnerable. For those living with terminal illness and their loved ones, this is an intensely personal issue but one which offers no sense of right or wrong.

The most recent study of UK attitudes towards assisted dying (Populus 2015)* revealed that 82% percent of people polled support a change in the law on assisted dying for terminally ill adults. A number of high profile cases have challenged the current law on assisted dying, Kelly Taylor (2007), Debbie Purdy (2009), Tony Nicklinson (2012) and most recently Paul Lamb (2014) each has helped identify that such cases should not be seen as a wholly legal issue and that a democratically elected Parliament should be the instrument for interpreting public consensus and the moral implications of legitimising assisted dying.

A death plan, though, is not just for people who are concerned about living with degenerative conditions. Talking about and letting those close to you know your wishes will enable you to discuss your end of life openly and honestly - as well as what you expect from your carers (if you have any), your GP and medical specialists - and, if appropriate, a minister of faith. Death is a part of life, and we all deserve a good death, and to be treated with respect, honesty and love. 

We've created some templates to give you some ideas about things you might need to consider as part of your planning. They are free to download and you can print them off and read at a more appropriate time.

Advance decisions

Advance decisions

Have you considered writing an advance decision (or Living Will)? This template can help you outline your care preferences to share with your loved ones.

Writing a death plan

Writing a death plan

A death plan allows you to relieve the burden of decision making from the shoulders of those you love and creates the opportunity for a peaceful end of life.


Tags: assisted suicide voluntary euthanasia assisted dying

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