Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Ethics briefing
  1. Sophie Brannan,
  2. Ruth Campbell,
  3. Martin Davies,
  4. Veronica English,
  5. Rebecca Mussell,
  6. Julian C Sheather
  1. Medical Ethics, British Medical Association, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Mr Martin Davies, Medical Ethics, British Medical Association, London WC1H 9JP, UK; mdavies{at}

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.

Assisted dying

Nicklinson Supreme Court judgement

In June 2014 the Supreme Court ruled on the joint appeals of the late Tony Nicklinson, Paul Lamb and a person identified only as Martin, on the status of UK law on assisted dying.1

As previously reported here,2 ,3 Tony Nicklinson had a catastrophic stroke in 2005, which left him with locked-in syndrome. Unable to end his life himself, he had for many years sought a declaration that it would be lawful for someone to assist him to do so. He died in 2012 from pneumonia, a week after an unsuccessful appeal to the High Court. His widow pursued his appeal to the Court of Appeal with Paul Lamb, who had been severely paralysed in a car accident in 1990. Their contention that UK law was incompatible with the right to a private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was rejected by the Court of Appeal in July 2013 and the appeal was dismissed.

The Supreme Court, by a majority of seven to two, also dismissed the appeal. Although the majority ruled that the courts do have constitutional authority to make a declaration that UK law is incompatible with the ECHR, only two justices said they would exercise that authority in this case. Assisted dying was deemed to be a matter for Parliament, as the democratically elected legislature, owing to the complex issues of social policy and moral value-judgement involved.

While unwilling to make a declaration of incompatibility, many of the judgements indicated broad support for possible reform. In the leading judgement, Lord Neuberger noted that the ‘grave and significant’ interference with Article 8 rights could not necessarily be justified by the complete prohibition on assisted dying. He further noted that the arguments in favour of the current law were far …

View Full Text