England

Right-to-die campaigners' case rejected in Europe

Jane and Tony Nicklinson Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Tony Nicklinson suffered from locked-in syndrome and died in 2012

A bid by UK campaigners to overturn the law on assisted dying has been rejected by the European Court of Human Rights.

Applications by Jane Nicklinson, whose husband Tony had locked-in syndrome, and Paul Lamb, who was paralysed in a crash, were ruled inadmissible.

The court said the UK Parliament was "best placed" to rule on such a sensitive issue.

Mr Nicklinson's daughter, Lauren, told the BBC she was "devastated" but said the law "has to change at some point".

"What it means is, people will continue to go to [the Dignitas clinic in] Switzerland, we will continue to export the problem... and people will continue to suffer."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Paul Lamb was paralysed in a road accident

The 1961 Suicide Act makes it an offence to encourage or assist a suicide or a suicide attempt in England and Wales. Anyone doing so could face up to 14 years in prison.

Tony Nicklinson, from Melksham in Wiltshire, was paralysed from the neck down after suffering a stroke in 2005.

He fought for the right to allow doctors to end his life but, after losing a High Court battle in 2012, he refused food and then contracted pneumonia and died, aged 58, at his home.

'Under pressure'

The judgement has been welcomed by the disability charity Scope, which has said the current law on assisted suicide "protects the lives of disabled people in Britain".

Interim chief executive Mark Atkinson added: "Many tell us they fear that a change in the law could lead to disabled people, and other vulnerable people, feeling under pressure to end their lives.

"Why is it that when people who are not disabled want to commit suicide, we try to talk them out of it, but when a disabled person wants to commit suicide, we focus on how we can make that possible?

"The current law against assisted suicide works. It sends a powerful message countering the view that if you're disabled it's not worth being alive, and that you're a burden.

He added that the focus should be more on helping disabled people live fulfilling lives rather than making suicide possible.

'Ill-founded'

Mr Lamb, from Bramley in Leeds, has been almost completely paralysed from the neck down since a car accident more than 20 years ago and says he is in constant pain.

He has called for the law to be changed so any doctor who helped him die would have a defence against the charge of murder.

Mrs Nicklinson and Mr Lamb went to the European Court of Human Rights after their case was rejected last year by the UK Supreme Court, which said the matter should be dealt with by Parliament.

Mrs Nicklinson had argued that UK courts "failed to determine the compatibility" of UK law with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to respect for private and family life.

But judges in Strasbourg said the Supreme Court was entitled to say it was best dealt with by Parliament and ruled Mrs Nicklinson's application "ill-founded and inadmissible".

In Mr Lamb's case, the European Court ruled that he had not exhausted all domestic remedies - as he had not taken his argument that he should be able to get court permission to allow a volunteer to administer lethal drugs to the Supreme Court.

The law is almost identical in Northern Ireland.

In Scotland, there is no specific law on assisted suicide, creating some uncertainty, although in theory someone could be prosecuted under homicide legislation.

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