Shropshire

Dying man Noel Conway can fight right-to-die law

Noel Conway
Image caption Noel Conway was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2014

A terminally ill man has won the right to bring a High Court challenge over the law on assisted dying.

Noel Conway, 67, asked the Court of Appeal to overturn a decision that prevented a judicial review over the blanket ban on providing a person with assistance to die.

The retired college lecturer, who has motor neurone disease, is not expected to live for more than 12 more months.

Mr Conway, from Shrewsbury, was diagnosed with the disease in 2014.

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Mr Conway, who lives with his wife and son, used to enjoy climbing, skiing, walking and cycling, but is now dependent on a ventilator overnight, requires a wheelchair and needs help to dress and eat.

He wants a declaration that the Suicide Act 1961 is incompatible with Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, which relates to respect for private and family life, and Article 14, which protects from discrimination.

Image copyright NOEL CONWAY
Image caption Before his illness Noel Conway was a keen skier, climber and cyclist

He told judges in previous hearings he faced an "unbearable death", but lost a High Court bid on 30 March to challenge the law.

His lawyers have said that when Mr Conway has less than six months to live but still has the mental capacity to make the decision, "he would wish to be able to enlist assistance to bring about a peaceful and dignified death".


Analysis by Fergus Walsh, Medical correspondent

The judgement means that Noel Conway will now get a full hearing - a judicial review of the 1961 Suicide Act.

At the earlier High Court hearing, two out of three judges had ruled that this should not be allowed, primarily because two years ago MPs voted against changing the law to permit assisted dying. Lord Justice Burnett said it would be "institutionally inappropriate" to go against the "settled will" of Parliament.

But in the Appeal Court, Lord Justice Beatson and Lord Justice McFarlane said that should not prevent challenges to the law whatever the "fragility" of the prospects.

If Noel Conway was to win his case it would undoubtedly be appealed and potentially go all the way to the Supreme Court. Any further consideration of the law by Parliament might take years.

The case will be the first High Court challenge to the existing law since MPs rejected an attempt to introduce assisted dying in 2015.


Mr Conway, whose incurable neurological condition causes weakness and wasting in the limbs, had hoped a judicial review would ultimately result in terminally ill adults who meet strict criteria being able to make their own decisions about ending their lives.

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But two out of three High Court judges refused his request last month.

Now, the case will go back to the same court to be heard in full, following Wednesday's appeal court ruling by Lord Justice McFarlane and Lord Justice Beatson.

Tom Davies, from Dignity in Dying which has been supporting Mr Conway, said he was "delighted" the retired lecturer "would have his day in court".

He said that although any judgement might come too late for him, he said Mr Conway had always said it was not just for him.

"People deserve a choice... if he doesn't get to benefit then hopefully the many hundreds of others who have supported this case will."

'Entombed'

It will also be the first such case since right-to-die campaigners lost their appeal before the Supreme Court in 2014,

Mr Conway's wife, Carol, described his diagnosis as "devastating" when the couple spoke to the BBC in January.

He said he feared becoming "entombed" in his body as his health deteriorated.

Image copyright FERGUS WALSH/ BBC
Image caption Carol and Noel Conway spoke to the BBC in January

The 1961 Suicide Act makes it a criminal offence punishable by up to 14 years in prison for anyone to assist in a suicide.

The 2014 case brought before the Supreme Court made it clear that it was up to Parliament to deal with any decision on amending the law.

A year later, MPs rejected plans for a right-to-die law in England and Wales, in their first vote on the issue in almost 20 years.

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