UK man seeking to be killed by euthanasia can proceed with case, rules judge
LONDON, March 13, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A London judge ruled on Monday that Tony Nicklinson, a 58-year-old man with a wife and two grown daughters, may go forward with a legal action that would allow doctors to directly euthanize him by lethal injection. Campaigners on both sides of the euthanasia debate believe that if he wins, the case could automatically overturn Britain’s criminal prohibitions against doctors killing patients.
Mr. Justice Charles said in his ruling that Nicklinson’s statements “describe in vivid and moving terms the predicaments of the claimant, his wife and two daughters.”
The law does not currently recognize “euthanasia” or “mercy killing” and any doctor who were to dispatch Mr. Nicklinson with a lethal injection would be liable for prosecution for murder.
The High Court judge ruled the case could proceed to a judicial review. The Ministry of Justice is arguing, however, that the matter should be left to Parliament.
Nicklinson described his life as “dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable.”
During the hearing, Nicklinson’s wife Jane said, “The only way to relieve Tony’s suffering will be to kill him…Because he can’t do anything for himself he needs to be killed.”
Nicklinson suffered a stroke in 2005 and is described as suffering from “locked-in syndrome,” being paralysed from the neck down and dependent upon others for all his needs. Following the ruling, he said he was “delighted.”
“It’s no longer acceptable for 21st century medicine to be governed by 20th century attitudes to death.” He told the court in a prepared statement, “I need help in almost every aspect of my life.”
“I have no privacy or dignity left. I am washed, dressed and put to bed by carers who are, after all, still strangers…I am fed up with my life and don’t want to spend the next 20 years or so like this.”
David Perry QC, representing the Ministry of Justice, told the High Court that Mr. Nicklinson “is saying the court should positively authorise and permit as lawful the deliberate taking of his life.”
“That is not, and cannot be, the law of England and Wales unless Parliament were to say otherwise,” Perry said.
One high-ranking ethicist, however, argues that passive euthanasia is already effectively legal in Britain through the deliberate starving and dehydrating of patients. Julian Savulescu, Professor of Practical Ethics at Oxford University, editor of the prestigious Journal of Medical Ethics, and one of the world’s most radically liberal ethicists, wrote today that, under the country’s current laws and medical guidelines, the provision of food and hydration is regarded as “medical treatment” that Mr. Nicklinson can opt to refuse.
“If doctors, courts and family members can make a decision that a person’s life is no longer worth living and feeding should be stopped, why can’t the person, like Tony Nicklinson, make that decision, and it be acted upon? Surely the person who has the most right to decide whether life is tolerable is the person who must live that life,” Savulescu wrote.
He says that guidelines already exist that would oblige doctors to accept his decision and provide him with palliative care to treat the unpleasant symptoms of dehydration until he died, a process which would take “a few weeks.”
In his article, Savulescu wrote that there is no effective moral difference between removing food and hydration and giving a lethal injection.
“But what, you might ask, is the difference between Tony Nicklinson dying by starvation, perhaps unconscious, over a period of weeks and him being given a lethal injection that would kill him in seconds, painlessly? In both cases, he will certainly die. Surely it is more humane, in these circumstances, to give him a lethal injection than to allow him to starve himself to death?
“This is the argument of course from suicide, to assisted suicide, to euthanasia. But if one has a right not to eat, then one has a right to euthanasia, at least in moral terms.”
“Practical Ethics” is the title of a landmark book by Australian bioethicist Peter Singer, who is notorious for his suggestions that parents should have the right to kill unwanted infants after birth, and as an advocate of eugenics. As head of Practical Ethics at Oxford, Savulescu has followed in Singer’s footsteps by arguing that parents have a responsibility to genetically select the “best” children using in vitro fertilisation techniques; that even if embryos are persons, killing them is justified if some of those killed would “benefit from the killing.” He has also supported the cloning and killing of unborn children to obtain their organs for transplant to adults.