Motor neurone disease sufferer loses Court of Appeal assisted dying challenge

Motor neurone disease sufferer Noel Conway has lost his Court of Appeal challenge against a “blanket ban” on assisted dying.

The 68-year-old retired lecturer from Shrewsbury, who says he feels “entombed” by his illness, has fought a long legal battle for the right to a “peaceful and dignified” death.

He wanted help to die – which the law prevents – when he has less than six months left to live, still has the mental capacity to make the decision and has made a “voluntary, clear, settled and informed” decision.

He proposed that he could only receive assistance to die if a High Court judge determined that he met all three of those criteria.

Mr Conway challenged an earlier High Court rejection of his case at a hearing in May.

But his case was rejected on Wednesday by three senior judges – Master of the Rolls Sir Terence Etherton, Sir Brian Leveson and Lady Justice King.

Reading a summary of the ruling, Sir Terence said the court concluded it is not as well placed as Parliament to determine the “necessity and proportionality of a blanket ban”.

He also said the High Court had evidence before it from which it could find that Mr Conway’s proposed scheme was “inadequate to protect the weak and vulnerable” and failed to give enough weight to the “significance of the sanctity of life and to the scheme’s potential to undermine trust and confidence as between doctors and patients”.

Sir Terence added: “From the outset, we emphasise our great respect for him (Mr Conway) and for the dignity and courage which he has shown.”

Mr Conway, who is supported by the campaign group Dignity in Dying, was too unwell to travel to London for the hearing.

He is now dependent on a ventilator for up to 23 hours a day and only has movement in his right hand, head and neck.

He cites his current options as to “effectively suffocate” by choosing to remove his ventilator or spend thousands travelling to Switzerland to end his life and have his family risk prosecution.

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


Noel Conway’s case is the latest on the issue of assisted dying to be considered by the courts. Diane Pretty, Debbie Purdy and Tony Nicklinson all brought legal action for the right to end their lives with help.

Diane Pretty

Diane Pretty was terminally ill with motor neurone disease (MND) and wanted an assurance that her husband Brian would not be prosecuted if he helped her to die.

The mother of two took her case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg after it was rejected by British judges, but the court ruled against her in 2002.

Judges said the fact that assisting a suicide was a crime in England did not breach Mrs Pretty’s human rights.

The 43-year-old from Luton, Bedfordshire, died in a hospice two weeks after the court’s ruling.

Debbie Purdy

Debbie Purdy was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1995 and won a court battle to clarify the law on assisted suicide.

Ms Purdy, from Bradford, West Yorkshire, sought assurance over whether her husband Omar Puente would be prosecuted if he helped her travel to Dignitas to end her life.

In 2009 the House of Lords ruled the law was not clear enough about when people would be prosecuted for assisting suicide and ordered the director of public prosecutions (DPP) to publish guidelines on what would make a prosecution more or less likely.

Ms Purdy was not able to go through with her plan to travel to a Swiss assisted-suicide clinic due to her health deteriorating, and she died in a hospice in December 2014, aged 51.

Tony Nicklinson

Tony Nicklinson suffered locked-in syndrome after having a catastrophic stroke while on a business trip to Athens in 2005.

The 58-year-old, from Melksham, Wiltshire, died days after his right-to-die case was rejected by the High Court in 2012, with three judges ruling the current law did not breach his human rights.

His fight was taken up by his widow Jane Nicklinson and, with paralysed former builder Paul Lamb, she went to the Supreme Court and then to the European Court of Human Rights.

The case was rejected in both courts but, in the Supreme Court’s ruling, Lady Hale – now president of the court – expressed the view that the protection of vulnerable people was not sufficient to justify a “universal ban” on assisted suicide.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Annabel Moeller / Dignity in Dying / PA Wire.