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17 August 2012

Christian groups welcome high court ruling in Nicklinson case

Christian groups welcome high court ruling in Nicklinson case

A number of Christian groups have welcomed the high court's decision this week in a landmark ruling over assisted suicide.

Tony Nicklinson and another man known only as 'Martin' both suffer from locked-in syndrome. Both had brought separate legal challenges on assisted suicide and murder.

Mr Nicklinson, who is almost completely paralysed but fully conscious, had wanted a legal declaration that his doctor would not be prosecuted if he was to assist in his death.

Martin had wanted the court to decide whether or not there would be a prosecution if volunteers were to help him travel to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.

Guidelines from the director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer QC, however, only imply protection against prosecution from family members or close friends who are motivated by compassion alone.

The judges said that it was not within the powers of the court to rule on the issue and that it was a matter for parliament.

Dr Andrew Fergusson, a spokesman for Care not Killing, a group which the Alliance is part of, said: "The judgment strongly rejected the notion that voluntary euthanasia should be a defence in murder cases, saying this was not compatible with English Law, and the prohibition on assisted suicide in the UK is not contrary to Article 8 of the European Convention.

"The three hugely respected and experienced judges, Lord Justice Toulson, Mr Justice Royce and Mrs Justice Macur, acknowledged cogently that while these are two tragic cases, it would be wrong for the court to change the current law, which has been debated and voted upon in parliament frequently in recent years.

"The ruling confirms the view that even in a free democratic society there are limits to choice. Every law limits choice and stops some people doing what they might desperately wish to do, but this is necessary in order to protect others, especially the most vulnerable in our society.

"Hopefully the decision to reject both cases will now draw a line once and for all under legal debate and allow decision makers and society to focus attention on how we care for the terminally ill and severely disabled."

The ruling received criticism from groups, including the British Humanist Association, who had been fully behind the legal case.

Andrew Copson, chief executive of the BHA, said: "Mentally competent adults should be able to make decisions about their lives, as long as they do not result in harm to others.

"In cases where a patient is suffering incurably, is permanently incapacitated, and has made a clear and informed decision to end their life but is unable to do so independently, the law should allow a doctor to intervene.

"We also believe that there is an urgent need for parliament to legislate on the matter, and to introduce a law which legalises assisted dying while also imposing safeguards to protect the vulnerable.

"We will continue to support Tony as he appeals this decision and will also continue to call for an ethical and humane law on assisted dying that would protect the vulnerable, but also allow mentally competent adults the right to die with dignity in a time and manner of their own choosing."

Dr Daniel Boucher, CARE's director of parliamentary affairs, said however that though there was sympathy for Tony Nicklinson and Martin, the ruling went some way towards ensuring protection of many more vulnerable people in the future.

He said: "Hard cases like those of Tony Nicklinson and Martin make bad law. If we define laws on the basis of our regard for the suffering in a small minority rather than on the basis of our commitment to prevent suffering for the majority, we will expose the majority to all kinds of dangers from which the law currently protects them. Real concerns over the future risk of the normalisation of involuntary euthanasia and growing pressure which could be exerted on the elderly and vulnerable on the grounds of their usefulness to society should continue to make us think twice before rushing headlong down the route of legalisation.

"Although we sympathise with the two men and their families in the case verdicts given today, we welcome the decision of the courts to uphold British law on assisted suicide and murder."