By Megan Ford and Daniel Sansom
A group from Bournemouth campaigning for a change in the law on assisted death are delighted with a recent breakthrough in a long-running case.
Last week Noel Conway, a 68-year-old man from Shropshire who has terminal motor neurone disease, was granted permission to appeal against an earlier decision which rejected his wish to die. Noel feels that he is being prevented from exercising his right to choice and control over his death and fears that without a change in the law he may be forced to suffer against his wishes.
Alicia Dickinson started up the Dignity in Dying campaign group in Bournemouth last April. She believes the latest development in Noel’s legal challenge is positive.
She says: “If his appeal is accepted I think it could be absolutely groundbreaking because it means people are starting to wake up and are starting to listen.”
Although assisted death is not legal in the UK, other countries such as Holland and Belgium permit it under specific circumstances.
Alicia believes Noel’s case could spark a decisive change in the nation’s approach to this issue.
She adds: “I think this will be the start of a turning point. So many places are doing it now and we might be the last to do it but it will have to happen because otherwise it will be too much for the healthcare system to cope with.
It could turn into an epidemic of people committing suicide if nothing changes.”
Contrary to what many people might think, there is a clear distinction between assisted death and assisted suicide. Alicia insists people need to know the difference and works with her campaign group to deliver this message.
After campaigning outside the British Medical Association (BMA) conference in Bournemouth last year, Alicia thinks it’s a doctor’s primary responsibility to protect life but only for those who wish to stay alive.
Alicia’s campaign movement works to help persuade politicians that the law regarding assisted death must change.
Bournemouth West MP Conor Burns says he’s worried about the courts changing the law based on individual cases.
“I think that it should be a matter for Parliament to consider such changes to the law which it has done in recent years and will, doubtless, do so again.”
Although Noel Conway’s case might lead to a change, other cases haven’t been successful. In 2012 Tony Nicklinson died six days after losing his High Court case to allow doctors to end his life. He suffered with locked-in syndrome after a stroke in 2005 and fought continuously to change the law.
Tony’s widow, Jane, says she’s pleased with Noel’s news but hopes the law will change for all long-term sufferers in the future, not just the terminally ill.
She says: “Of course our case is very different to Noel’s because he is only fighting for the terminal. That’s still not nearly enough in my opinion. As Tony once said, ‘the terminal are lucky…they know they will die soon.’ People like Tony could live for many years.”