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Ethics briefing
  1. Sophie Brannan,
  2. Ruth Campbell,
  3. Martin Davies,
  4. Veronica English,
  5. Rebecca Mussell,
  6. Julian Sheather
  1. Medical Ethics and Human Rights, British Medical Association, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Martin Davies, 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

In April 2017, the Court of Appeal allowed a challenge to the UK law on assisted dying to proceed.

Noel Conway was diagnosed with motor neuron disease in 2014. His condition is incurable and he is not expected to live beyond 12 months. He wishes to enlist the assistance of a medical professional to end his life at a time of his choosing and seeks a declaration that the prohibition on assisted dying under the UK law is incompatible with his rights under Article 8 (the right to respect for private and family life) and Article 14 (the right to freedom from discrimination) as protected by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).1

Previous Ethics briefings reported on the case of Tony Nicklinson, a man with locked-in syndrome who brought a similar claim which failed in the Supreme Court in 2014.2 The Supreme Court declined to make a declaration of incompatibility between the law and Mr Nicklinson's rights under the ECHR, and held that, in light of the ‘fundamental but mutually inconsistent moral values’ involved, agreeing a legal position on assisted dying was for Parliament to decide.3 A key component of their reasoning was the fact that Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill was then under parliamentary consideration, and was due to have its second reading in the House of Lords.4 The Court reserved the right to make a future declaration of incompatibility if Parliament failed to address the issue, stating that Parliament must act 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’.5

The key question for the Court in Conway was therefore whether the circumstances which led the Supreme Court to refuse to consider a …

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