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Ethics briefing
  1. Martin Davies,
  2. Sophie Brannan,
  3. Ruth Campbell,
  4. Veronica English,
  5. Rebecca Mussell,
  6. Julian C Sheather
  1. Department of Medical Ethics and Human Rights, British Medical Association, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Martin Davies, Department of Medical Ethics and Human Rights, British Medical Association, BMA House, Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9JP, UK; mdavies{at}bma.org.uk

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Assisted dying

High Court rejects assisted dying challenge

The High Court has rejected the latest challenge to the law on assisted dying in the UK, brought by Noel Conway. Mr Conway, a retired college lecturer, was diagnosed with motor neuron disease in 2012. Since his diagnosis, his health has deteriorated and he is dependent on ever-increasing levels of assistance with daily life, including the use of non-invasive ventilation to help him breathe.

He sought a declaration from the court that section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961 (which prohibits encouraging or assisting suicide) was incompatible with his right to a private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

As part of his case, Mr Conway submitted the outline of an alternative statutory scheme, which he argued, if implemented, would provide sufficient safeguards. He submitted that the prohibition on assisted suicide should not apply where an individual is aged 18 and over; has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and has a clinically assessed prognosis of 6 months or less to live; has the mental capacity to make the decision; makes that decision in a voluntary, clear and settled manner; and retains the ability to undertake the final act. Additionally, two doctors must confirm that the individual meets the criteria, and permission for the provision of assistance must be authorised by a High Court judge.

Previous challenges to the UK law on assisted dying, including Pretty and Nicklinson, had established that section 2 of the Suicide Act does engage individual’s Article 18 rights, but that such an interference could be justified under Article 8 (2) of the ECHR,  which permits interference ‘such as is in accordance with the law and necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country’. The question …

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