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Friday, 19 January 2018

Terminally ill deserve to be heard says right to die campaigner after appeal win

Written by Sian Harrison

Motor neurone disease sufferer Noel Conway said the voices of the terminally ill "deserve to be heard" as he won the first stage of his Court of Appeal challenge to an earlier ruling on assisted dying.

The 68-year-old retired lecturer from Shrewsbury, who says he feels "entombed" by his illness, is fighting a legal battle for the right to a "peaceful and dignified" death.

When he has less than six months left to live and still has mental capacity to make the decision, he wants to be able to enlist help from medical professionals to bring about his death - which the law currently prevents.

He previously asked the High Court for a declaration that the Suicide Act 1961 is incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which relates to respect for private and family life, and Article 14, which protects from discrimination.

His case was rejected in October last year, but he was granted permission for a full appeal hearing on Thursday.

Sir Ernest Ryder, sitting at the Court of Appeal with Lord Justice Underhill, said: "Having given the matter the consideration that we have, we believe it appropriate to give permission."

In a statement issued after the decision, Mr Conway said: "I am pleased that my case will now proceed to the Court of Appeal.

"I brought this case not only for myself but on behalf of all terminally ill people who believe they should have the right to die on their own terms.

"Our voices deserve to be heard."

Mr Conway said his current option is to "effectively suffocate" by choosing to remove his ventilator.

He added: "I have accepted that my illness will rob me of my life, but how it ends should be up to me.

"Why should I have to endure unbearable suffering and the possibility of a traumatic, drawn out death when there is an alternative that has been proven to work elsewhere?

"To have the choice of an assisted death in my final months would allow me to enjoy the rest of my life in peace, without fear and worry hanging over me.

"Throughout this case, my family and I have been touched by the outpouring of support and well wishes from the public, others living with terminal illness and those who have witnessed the traumatic deaths of loved ones.

"To me, this proves beyond doubt that this is an issue close to the hearts of thousands of people across the country. I now look forward to the next stage in my case, knowing I have the strength of public opinion behind me."

Mr Conway is being represented by law firm Irwin Mitchell and supported by campaign group Dignity in Dying.

His appeal will be opposed by the Secretary of State for Justice, with Humanists UK, Care Not Killing and Not Dead Yet UK also making submissions.

No date has been set for the full hearing, but his lawyers asked for it to be listed quickly as the latest advice of his doctors is that he has "not much more" than six months to live.

Giving reasons for the court's decision, Sir Ernest said there was a "serious question" as to whether the High Court gave enough consideration to the evidence before it.

He said there was also an issue as to how it resolved "serious disagreements" between experts.

The judge added that it was important to distinguish Mr Conway's case, which is concerned with assisted suicide, from euthanasia.

The appeal hearing is expected to last two days.

A spokesman for the organisation Care Not Killing, which opposes Mr Conway's case, said: "Care Not Killing does not believe that the courts need to review the Conway case again and will continue to oppose this latest attempt to change the law.

"The safest law is one like Britain's current law, which gives blanket prohibition on all assisted suicide and euthanasia.

"This deters exploitation and abuse through the penalties that it holds in reserve, but at the same time gives some discretion to prosecutors and judges to temper justice with mercy in hard cases.

"We are confident that the appeal court judges will now dismiss this latest application to change the law."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Stefan Rousseau / PA Wire.