Supreme Court of Canada upholds physician-assisted dying

TaylorCarter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 5 (CanLII) 6 February 2015 – read judgment

The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld a challenge to the constitutionality of the prohibition on assisted dying, saying that since they last ruled on this issue in the 1993 case of Rodriguez (where a “slim majority” upheld the prohibition), there had been a change in the circumstances which “fundamentally shifted the parameters” of this debate.

The Court issued a declaration of invalidity relating to those provisions in the Canadian criminal code that prohibit physician assisted dying for competent adults who seek such assistance as a result of a “grievous and irremediable” medical condition that causes “endurable and intolerable” suffering. These laws should be struck down as depriving those adults of their right to life, liberty and security of the person under Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights (The Constitution Act 1982)

Importantly, the court recognised what has long been proposed by campaigners on both sides of the Atlantic, that the prohibition deprives some individuals of life, as it has the effect of forcing people to take their own lives prematurely, for fear that they would be incapable of doing so when they reached the point where suffering was intolerable. Continue reading

It is heartless not to assist people to die: Debbie Purdy

UnknownThe multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy died in the Marie Curie hospice in Bradford on December 23 2014. Having been denied her right to travel to Dignitas in Switzerland, which would have exposed her husband to the risk of prosecution under the 1961 Suicide Act, she took the only option available to her – refusing food. Death by starvation is not pleasant. The relevant Wikipedia entry describes some of the symptoms:

The body breaks down its own muscles and other tissues in order to keep vital systems such as the nervous system and the heart muscle functioning.
… Early symptoms include impulsivity, irritability, hyperactivity, and other symptoms. Atrophy (wasting away) of the stomach weakens the perception of hunger, since the perception is controlled by the percentage of the stomach that is empty. Victims of starvation are often too weak to sense thirst, and therefore become dehydrated.

All movements become painful due to muscle atrophy and dry, cracked skin that is caused by severe dehydration. With a weakened body, diseases are commonplace. Fungi, for example, often grow under the esophagus, making swallowing painful.

I apologise for introducing such a gloomy subject into the dying embers of 2014, but it is too important to pass by.

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Supreme Court rejects right to die appeals

Tony NicklinsonR (on the application of Nicklinson and another) (Appellants) v Ministry of Justice (Respondent); R (on the application of AM) (AP) (Respondent) v The Director of Public Prosecutions (Appellant) [2014] UKSC 38 – read judgment

On appeal from [2013] EWCA Civ 961

The Supreme Court has declined to uphold a right to die a dignified death.  However, a glimmer is is to be found in this judgment in that two out of the seven justices who concluded that it was for the United Kingdom to decide whether the current law on assisted suicide was incompatible with the right to privacy and dignity under Article 8, would have granted such a declaration in these proceedings., particularly where the means of death was one that could have been autonomously operated by the disabled appellant, leaving no doubt as to the voluntary and rational nature of his decision.

But the majority concluded that this was a matter for Parliament, not for the Courts.

The following summary is from the Supreme Court’s Press Summary

Bacground 

These appeals arise from tragic facts and raise difficult and significant issues, namely whether the present state of the law of England and Wales relating to assisting suicide infringes the European Convention on Human Rights (“the Convention”), and whether the code published by the Director of Public Prosecutions (“the DPP”) relating to prosecutions of those who are alleged to have assisted suicide is lawful. Continue reading

Our advance directives about how we should die should be respected – Court of Protection

brain-in-head

UPDATE | The 1COR event which this post previously referred to is now full, so please do not turn up unless you have registered.

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust v TH and Anor [2014] EWCOP (22 May 2014) – read judgment

In a careful and humane judgment, the Court of Protection has demonstrated that the law is capable of overlooking the stringent requirements of the conditions governing advance directives, and stressed that a “holistic” view of the patients’ wishes and feelings must be adopted, if those point to the withdrawal of life saving treatment.

Background

TH was admitted to the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield earlier this year. His general health revealed a background of known alcohol excess, and he had suffered neurological damage involving seizures and severe depression of consciousness.

 

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Appeal court shies away from right to die issue

the-diving-bell-and-theR (on the application of) Nicklinson and Lamb v Ministry of Justice [2013] EWCA Civ 961   – read judgment

The Court of Appeal has today unanimously dismissed appeals by Jane Nicklinson and Paul Lamb challenging the legal ban on voluntary euthanasia.

We have posted previously on the Hight Court ruling in the Nicklinson case, here and here. The following is based on the Court’s press summary. An analysis of this case will follow shortly.

Summary of the facts and the ruling

These appeals concern two individuals who suffer from permanent and catastrophic physical disabilities. Both are of sound mind and acutely conscious of their predicament. They have each expressed a settled wish to end their life at a time of their own choosing in order to alleviate suffering and to die with dignity. Continue reading

Assisted dying in Switzerland: Unclear lethal drug prescribing guidelines breached human rights

Syringe-used-for-flu-vacc-007GROSS v. SWITZERLAND – 67810/10 – Chamber Judgment [2013] ECHR 429 – Read judgment / press summary

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Swiss guidelines for doctors prescribing lethal drugs were too unclear and therefore breached article 8 ECHR, the right to private and family life. Ms Gross sought a prescription for a lethal drug to end her own life. She has no critical illness, but is elderly and feels that her quality of life is so low that she would like to commit suicide. The Swiss medical authorities refused to provide her with the prescription.

Assisted dying and the right to die have been firmly back in the spotlight this week, with the cases of Lamb and “Martin” going to the English and Wales Court of Appeal. Mr Lamb is taking up the point made by Tony Nicklinson in the High Court, before his death, that doctors should have a defence of necessity to murder charges in cases of assisted suicide. Mr Nicklinson’s widow, Jane, is continuing his fight too. The cases also challenge the current guidelines on when prosecution should be brought for assisting suicide. You can read more about the background to the right to die caselaw here.

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“No precedent? Then set one!” – Nicklinson right to die case

Updated – Tony Nicklinson, one of the two claimants in this case, died on 22 August 2012.

This is Richard Dawkin’s battle cry in response to the recent High Court rejection of the challenge by locked-in sufferers to the murder and manslaughter laws in this country that have condemned them to an unknowable future of suffering.

As explained in my previous posts, Nicklinson, who suffered a catastrophic stroke in 2005, argued for an extension to the common law defence of ‘necessity’ for murder because the alternative – forcing him to stay alive – is worse. His lawyers also submitted that the government is in breach of his Article 8 right to ‘privacy, dignity and autonomy’, a right he cannot exercise independently because of severe disability.

The court rejected the “bold” submission, stating that there was no precedent anywhere in the world and such socially controversial changes were only for Parliament.

But the courts can’t keep ducking away from the problem, because Parliament is never going to address this issue. Why? Because, as Dawkins points out, once again, religion turns out to be the major culprit. Every attempt in the House of Lords “to do something about the right to seek professional (or even amateur) assistance in dying when you are too incapacitated to kill yourself” has crashed and burned, despite huge public support for reform in this area. Continue reading