Britons lose right-to-die case but campaigners see progress

Wed Jun 25, 2014 3:20pm EDT
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LONDON (Reuters) - A paralyzed car crash victim and the widow of a man who had locked-in syndrome lost a legal bid at Britain's highest court on Wednesday for the right to assisted suicide - but some of the judges signaled parliament should now tackle the issue.

The justices ruled seven-to-two against the appeal brought by Paul Lamb, who has only been able to move his right hand since his accident in 1990, and Jane Nicklinson, whose husband Tony was paralyzed after a stroke, court documents showed.

Tony Nicklinson, who was conscious but unable to communicate verbally, refused food and medication after he lost an earlier legal bid to end his life with a doctor's help in 2012 and died a week later.

Both appeals had argued Britain's bar on the men getting help to commit suicide infringed the European Convention on Human Rights.

The legal battle has grabbed headlines in Britain and fueled a debate over euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Lord Neuberger, president of the court, said it had not been "appropriate" to rule if the ban on assisted suicide breached the convention in these cases, given the way they were presented and the fact that the House of Lords was going to debate the issue in the near future.

"Parliament now has the opportunity to address the issue of whether [the bar on assisted suicide] should be relaxed or modified, and if so how, in the knowledge that, if it is not satisfactorily addressed, there is a real prospect that a further, and successful, application for a declaration of incompatibility may be made," he added in his judgment.

The complex moral and religious arguments that would be involved in any parliamentary debate on changing Britain's current suicide law meant that "the courts should, as it were, take matters relatively slowly," he said.

He and four other judges went as far as declaring they had the legal authority to rule that an overarching ban on assisted suicide breached individuals' rights.   Continued...