Paralysed man continues push for "right to die"
A 57 year old man is seeking a court order that would allow doctors to end his life after joining forces with the family of Tony Nicklinson.
The two cases will be heard together in the Court of Appeal on 14 and 15 May.
Paul Lamb suffered a car accident in 1990 which left him without any function in his limbs other than a little movement in his right hand.
Mr Lamb’s case is significant in that it goes further than requesting assisted suicide. Because he is so severely paralysed he would be unable to take the final steps to kill himself.
This means he would need a doctor to kill him, which would amount to murder.
Mr Lamb is therefore asking that any doctor who killed him would have a defence against a murder charge.
The defence sought is “necessity”, which means it was necessary for the doctor to take action in order to stop intolerable suffering.
In England and Wales it is a criminal offence to encourage or assist a suicide attempt.
The law is very similar in Northern Ireland but in Scotland there is no specific law on assisted suicide, although homicide legislation could be used to prosecute someone.
Tony Nicklinson, who suffered from locked-in-syndrome, lost his legal bid to end his life in the High Court last year.
After his death shortly after the ruling, his wife vowed to continue her husband’s campaign and was granted permission to appeal the High Court’s ruling earlier this year.
Mr Nicklinson also argued that the principle of necessity should allow a doctor to end his life without facing murder charges.
But judges found that the law did not breach human rights and that it was for Parliament, not the courts, to decide whether it should be changed.
The nature of the two cases raises serious concerns over what would happen should doctors be given the authority to kill.
Dominica Roberts of Care Not Killing, described the legal action as “an attack on the law against murder.”
There are particular fears over the safety of elderly and disabled people.
Dr Peter Saunders, CEO of Christian Medical Fellowship, said: “This is a far-reaching legal change that would remove legal protection from a large number of vulnerable elderly and disabled people who could then feel pressure, whether real or imagined, to end their lives so as not to be a financial or emotional burden on others.
“There are many people who already stand to gain financially or emotionally from the death of particular elderly or disabled family members and they do not need encouragement. This is why the present law is necessary. Through the penalties it holds in reserve it acts as a powerful disincentive to exploitation and abuse whilst giving some prosecutorial and judicial discretion in hard cases. It provides the best balance and does not need changing.”
For more analysis on the significance of the case see Dr Peter Saunders’ blog >